Onomacritus

Summary

Onomacritus (Greek: Ὀνομάκριτος; c. 530 – c. 480 BCE), also known as Onomacritos or Onomakritos, was a Greek chresmologue, or compiler of oracles, who lived at the court of the tyrant Pisistratus in Athens. He is said to have prepared an edition of the Homeric poems, and was an industrious collector, as well as a forger of old oracles and poems.

According to Herodotus

Herodotus reports that Onomacritus was hired by Pisistratus to compile the oracles of Musaeus, but that Onomacritus inserted forgeries of his own that were detected by Lasus of Hermione.[1] As a result, Onomacritus was banished from Athens by Pisistratus' son Hipparchus. After the flight of the Pisistratids to Persia, Onomacritus was reconciled with them. According to Herodotus, Onomacritus induced Xerxes I, the King of Persia, by his oracular responses, to decide upon his war with Greece.

According to Pausanias

Pausanias attributes to Onomacritus certain poems forged under the name of Musaeus.[2] In explaining the presence of the Titan Anytos at Lycosura, he says that "From Homer the name of the Titans was taken by Onomakritos, who in the orgies he composed for Dionysos made the Titans the authors of the god's sufferings."[3] Therefore, Onomacritus is responsible for inventing an important aspect of the mythology concerning the Titans.

According to Thomas Taylor

The following are Thomas Taylor's remarks on works of Orpheus supposedly forged by Onomacritus:

In the last place, it is requisite to speak of the author of these [Orphic] Hymns, and in addition to the evidence already adduced of their genuine antiquity, to vindicate them against those who contend that they are spurious, and were not written by Orpheus, but either by Onomacritus, or some poet who lived in the decline and fall of the Roman empire. And first, with respect to the dialect of these Hymns, Gesner observes, “that it ought to be no objection to their antiquity. For though according to Iamblichus, the Thracian Orpheus, who is more ancient than those noble poets Homer and Hesiod, used the Doric dialect; yet the Athenian Onomacritus, who according to the general opinion of antiquity is the author of all the works now extant ascribed to Orpheus, might either, preserving the sentences and a great part of the words, only change the dialect, and teach the ancient Orpheus to speak Homerically, or as I may say Solonically; or might arbitrarily add or take away what he thought proper, which, as we are informed by Herodotus, was his practice with respect to the Oracles.” Gesner adds, “that it does not appear probable to him, that Onomacritus would dare to invent all that he wrote, since Orpheus must necessarily, at that time, have been much celebrated, and a great variety of his verses must have been in circulation.” And he concludes with observing, “that the objection of the Doric dialect ought to be of no more weight against the antiquity of the present works than the Pelasgic letters, which Orpheus, according to Diodorus Siculus, used.

In this extract, Gesner is certainly right in asserting that Onomacritus would not dare to invent all that he wrote, and afterwards publish it as Orphic; but I add, that it is unreasonable in the extreme to suppose that he in the least interpolated or altered the genuine works of Orpheus, though he might change the dialect in which they were originally written. For is it to be supposed that the Orphic Hymns would have been used in the Eleusinian mysteries, as we have demonstrated they were, if they had been spurious productions; or that the fraud would not have been long ago discovered by some of the many learned and wise men that flourished after Onomacritus ; and that the detection of this fraud would not have been transmitted so as to reach even the present times? Or indeed, is it probable that such a forgery could have existed at all, at a period when other learned men, as well as Onomacritus, had access to the genuine writings of Orpheus, and were equally capable with himself of changing them from one dialect into another? Even at a late period of antiquity, will any man who is at all familiar with the writings of Proclus, Hermias, and Olympio dorus, for a moment believe that men of such learning, profundity, and sagacity, would have transmitted to us so many verses as Orphic, though not in the Doric dialect, when at the same time they were the productions of Onomacritus? We may therefore, I think, confidently conclude, that though Onomacritus altered the dialect, he did not either add to or diminish, or in any respect adulterate the works of Orpheus; for it is impossible he should have committed such a fraud without being ultimately, if not immediately, detected.

With respect to those who contend that the works which are at present extant under the name of Orpheus were written during the decline and fall of the Roman empire, I trust every intelligent reader will deem it almost needless to say, in confutation of such an opinion, that it is an insult to the understanding of all the celebrated men of that period, by whom these writings have been quoted as genuine productions, and particularly to such among them as rank among the most learned, the most sagacious, and wisest of mankind.[4]

Notes

  1. ^ Javier Martínez, "Onomacritus the Forger, Hipparchus' Scapegoat?", in Fakes and Forgers of Classical Literature, Madrid, 2011, ISBN 84-7882-725-0, pp. 217 ff.
  2. ^ 1.22.7
  3. ^ Pausanias 8.37.5
  4. ^ Taylor, Thomas (1821) [1787]. The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus. London: C. Whittingham College House. pp. xli–xlii. ark:/13960/t2v47bg2h.

References