I just came across an interesting anecdote by Diogenes Laertius:
We hear that Bion, to whom the Scythian land of Borysthenes gave birth, denied that the Gods really exist. Had he persisted in holding this opinion, it would have been right to say, “He thinks as he pleases: wrongly, to be sure, but still he does think so.” But in fact, when he fell ill of a lingering disease and feared death, he who denied the existence of the Gods, and would not even look at a temple, who often mocked at mortals for sacrificing to deities, not only over hearth and high altars and table, with sweet savour and fat and incense did he gladden the nostrils of the Gods; nor was he content to say “I have sinned, forgive the past,” but he cheerfully allowed an old woman to put a charm round his neck, and in full faith bound his arms with leather and placed the rhamnus and the laurel-branch over the door, being ready to submit to anything sooner than die. Fool for wishing that the divine favour might be purchased at a certain price, as if the Gods existed just when Bion chose to recognize them! It was then with vain wisdom that, when the driveller was all ashes, he stretched out his hand and said “Hail, Pluto, hail!” (Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 4.55-57)
That anonymous old woman sure sounds an awful lot like an Orpheotelest, though I don’t recall seeing her mentioned in discussions of Orphism. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, since a lot of women were Orpheotelestai or otherwise participated in Orphic rites and beliefs.
Rhamnus, by the way, is buckthorn which was chewed and smeared on the lintel to banish the keres or wandering dead during Anthesteria.
Image by Jim Lyngvild.
2 thoughts on “but he cheerfully allowed an old woman to put a charm round his neck”
This is basically the original “There are no atheists in a foxhole”
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I love this image. powerful — I think, from what Freya’s Frenzy told me about teh image, that the artist used his grandmother for the model, which is cool. she’s badass. I also think it’s great that you’re talking about female orpheotelestai. I suspect people forget that was a thing.
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