Drawn by fierce lions — The Orphic Hymn to Rhea

“Daughter of great Protogonus, divine,
 illustrious Rhea, to my pray’r incline,

Who driv’st thy holy car with speed along,
 drawn by fierce lions, terrible and strong. 

Mother of Jove [Zeus], whose mighty arm can wield
 th’ avenging bolt, and shake the dreadful shield.

Drum-beating, frantic, of a splendid mien,
 brass-sounding, honor’d, Saturn’s [Kronos’] blessed queen.

Thou joy’st in mountains and tumultuous fight,
 and mankind’s horrid howlings, thee delight.

War’s parent, mighty, of majestic frame,
 deceitful saviour, liberating dame.

Mother of Gods and men, from whom the earth [Gaia]
 and lofty heav’ns [Ouranos] derive their glorious birth;

Th’ ætherial gales, the deeply spreading sea
 goddess ærial form’d, proceed from thee.

Come, pleas’d with wand’rings, blessed and divine,
 with peace attended on our labours shine;

Bring rich abundance, and wherever found
 drive dire disease, to earth’s remotest bound.”

This is an interesting hymn because, among other things, it seems to make Rhea the mother of Ouranos and Gaia instead of their child. The hymn calls Rhea the daughter of Protogonus (the firstborn being), which in the Orphic view of things is egg-born and named Phanes instead of Gaia who arose from primordial Chaos. She is in fact called “mother of Gods and men” in the hymn which is interesting in that she is often conflated with the Anatolian Goddess Cybele who Dionysus went to in order to be purified from murder.

She is a Titaness with a very warlike aspect in this hymn, which is in direct contradiction to the image of her being the wife and mother who saved the infant Zeus by giving Chronos a stone to swallow. The hymn even calls her “War’s parent” and says that she is “drum-beating” which definitely is not the role of the typical female of the day.

She is the liberating dame as she bears the Gods who bless mankind including Earth, Heaven, the airs and the sea. She is called upon to bring abundance and drive disease away as well as bringing peace upon the labors of those who call upon her.

In all ways, she is the EQUAL of her husband Chronos, if not actually the superior and she is not recorded as being punished after the war between the Titans and the Gods, which leads me to think that like Prometheus, she did not take sides.

The Orphic view, unlike the classical view, seems to put a lot of emphasis on Rhea and the other Goddesses. This makes me wonder if perhaps there was a growing level of egalitarianism between the sexes that would have brought us equality much sooner if it had been allowed to flourish.


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