Leads you here, despite your destination

Anthi Chrysanthou, Defining Orphism: the Beliefs, the Teletae and the Writings

If we accept that gala refers to the Milky Way, I suggest that the bull, the ram and the kid could refer to constellations. The ἔριφος, ταῦρος and κριὸς according to ancient sources would correspond to the constellations of Auriga (referred to as Ἔριφοι in ancient sources), Taurus (bull) and Aries (ram) respectively. These three constellations are next to each other and located on the Milky Way.

The constellation Taurus is related to Zeus but also to Dionysos since as already said the bull was Dionysos’ persona. Diodorus Siculus quotes some relevant verses: ‘One of them, Eumolpus, in his Bacchic Hymn speaks of ‘Our Dionysus, shining like a star, with fiery eye in every ray’ (ἀστροφαῆ Διόνυσον ἐν ἀκτίνεσσι πυρωπόν), while Orpheus says: ‘And this is why men call him Shining One and Dionysus’ (τούνεκά μιν καλέουσι Φάνητά τε καὶ Διόνυσον)’. We can see, thus, an association of the Orphic Dionysos-Phanes with the stars. In Sophocles’ Antigone the chorus of Theban elders addresses Dionysos, who is identified with the Eleusinian Iacchos:

O leader of the chorus of the stars with the fiery breath, overseer of the nocturnal chants, child begotten of Zeus, come to light, my king, with your attendants the Thyiades, who in night-long frenzy dance for Iacchus the giver!

Also, in Aristophanes’ Frogs the chorus says: Ἴακχ᾽ ὦ Ἴακχε, νυκτέρου τελετῆς φωσφόρος ἀστήρ φλογὶ φέγγεται δὲ λειμών (‘Iacchos, Oh Iacchos, the light-bringing star of our nocturnal rite. Now the meadow brightly burns’).

These passages give a clear identification of Dionysos-Iackhos as a star leading a chorus of stars. The chorus refers to the Thyiades who were the ones performing rites at Delphi to bring to life Dionysos. Their rite must have been important since the west pediment of the classical temple of Apollo at Delphi depicted Dionysos and the Thyiades, while the east pediment depicted Apollo’s arrival with Leto, Artemis and the Muses. The rites of the Thyiades took place in November and February and the Taurus constellation is most visible in November. Perhaps the resurrection of Dionysos was associated with the specific location of the constellation Taurus in the sky, which also marked the beginning of the new cycle of the grape season which ended in October with the harvest of the grapes. Taurus was formed from the Pleiades and the Hyades. Aratus (3rd B.C.) refers to the constellations and other celestial bodies in his Phenomena. He notes that the Pleiades were used for marking agricultural and seasonal cycles:

Small and dim are they all alike, but widely famed they wheel in heaven at morn and eventide, by the will of Zeus, who bade them tell of the beginning of summer and winter and of the coming of the ploughingtime.

We can see, thus, that the constellation of Taurus was associated with motifs of death and rebirth. It would not be surprising, then, if the owners of the gold tablets connected Taurus with eschatological beliefs of immortality and its location in the Milky Way with the Isles of the Blessed where they could dwell with the gods for all eternity. By uttering the makarismos of falling into milk as a bull, the initiates proclaimed their ultimate union with Dionysos and their new immortal state in the stars where Dionysos was also forever fixed as the constellation of Taurus and the leader of a chorus of stars (souls?), as the Theban elders in Antigone proclaim.

But what about the eriphos falling into milk? According to Aratus, the Auriga (Ἔριφοι) constellation is associated with the Charioteer and one of the kids he holds are identified with Amaltheia who suckled young Zeus. He notes:

At the feet of the Charioteer seek for the crouching horned Bull [Taurus]. […] Often spoken is their name and famous are the Hyades. Broadcast are they on the forehead of the Bull. One star occupies the tip of his left horn and the right foot of the Charioteer, who is close by. Together they are carried in their course…

An epigram from Miletus which includes ideas found in the gold tables and is dated to the 1st century A.D. locates the Isles of the Blessed at the exact same place that I have suggested:

You have not drunk the water from Lethe, Hermaios, and neither
Tartarus nor the abode of hateful Persephone is hidden to you. But
Hermes, of the beautiful ankles, led you up to Olympus and he saved
you from the painful life of human beings. At the age of eight, you have
seen the aether and now you sparkle among the stars, beside the horn,
in the constellation of the Goat, and next to the elbow of the
Charioteer. You shine now to protect the strong boys in the wrestling
school and thus the blessed show you their favour.

Hermaios’ blissful afterlife is dependent on the fact that he did not drink from the water of Lethe, just as in the gold tablets. Another similar idea is that human life is perceived as painful. The divine celestial substance is aether and Hermaios now sparkles among the stars located between the constellation of the Goat and the Charioteer. Even though this epigram comes from an area where no gold tablets have been found, it still lends support to my suggestion of locating the Isles of the Blessed in the Milky Way near the constellations of Eriphos and the Bull.