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Abstract

Over the past century and a half, about 40 Orphic gold lamellae have been discovered throughout the Mediterranean. These tablets were buried with initiates of the Orphic Mysteries, and served as indicators of the deceased’s elevated status in both this life and the afterlife. Many of the lamellae contained instructions for the deceased, guiding them to the blessed area of the Underworld that was promised to them by becoming initiates of the Orphic tradition.

Orphism as a cult had no set structure; rather, the practices seemed to have varied from region to region. The cult did not worship in a temple, but via itinerant priests, who traversed his respective area with holy book in hand, preaching to those who wished to achieve a more blessed state. This marginalized sect was not officially recognized by the state, yet in some regions, it gained some level of respect. By analyzing the individual variances in these itinerant priests’ practices, it is possible to identify individual strands of Orphic worship.

One of these strands is the Hipponion tablet, which is the oldest extant example for many of the other lamellae throughout the Mediterranean. Dating to about 400 BCE, it is among the earliest of the gold lamellae in existence. The Hipponion tablet was found at Hipponion, in the region of Magna Graecia in Italy, in an inhumation burial of a female. There are some errors in the text, which indicate that the scribe was working with a damaged or inaccurate model; however, without any earlier texts, we are only able to rely on conjecture at this point in time. What is clear is that this text served as a model for the other extant lamellae, which were found throughout Italy, mainland Greece, and the Greek islands, particularly Crete.

This study focuses on the influence of the Hipponion tablet, tracing its trajectory throughout the Mediterranean. It also analyzes other examples found in the lamellae, tracking their respective influences.

 

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