In my post on the Sortes Empedocleae I said:
Empedokles of Akragas was a Sicilian holy man and wonder-worker who, combining elements of Orphism with indigenous Italian traditions, created a philosophy that anticipated atomic and evolutionary science.
Although instances of this are to be found throughout much of the remaining fragments of his works, one of the most striking is this passage:
Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen’s heads; creatures, too, in which were mixed some parts from men and some of the nature of women, furnished with sterile members.
Among the cities of Magna Graecia (particularly those within the orbit of Lokroi Epizephyrii) an important hero was venerated, the Olympic athlete Euthymos who was either the son of Astykles or the river-god Kaikinos. While he presumably had a regular human body as a mortal (since he competed in boxing and the pankration) he took on quite a different form posthumously:
Many terracotta plaques featuring three female heads were found in the Grotta, sometimes with Pan and sometimes with Dionysiac symbols. This trio of heads is found in nymphaea, in Persephone shrines, and in tombs elsewhere in the Greek world, but in the Grotta Caruso an unusual combination occurs: sometimes the nymphs appear with a tauromorph, a bull with a human face and horns. The iconography of this figure is consistent with portraits of Acheloos or other river gods, and we have textual evidence that ties the Locrian one to a river. An inscription on one of the Grotta’s plaques names the bull-man as Euthymos, a curious Locrian hero. (Bonnie MacLachlan, Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave)
Pausanias (Description of Greece 6.7-11) relates the aition for his cult:
Odysseus, so they say, in his wanderings after the capture of Troy was carried down by gales to various cities of Italy and Sicily, and among them he came with his ships to Temesa. Here one of his sailors got drunk and violated a maiden, for which offence he was stoned to death by the natives. Now Odysseus, it is said, cared nothing about his loss and sailed away. But the ghost of the stoned man never ceased killing without distinction the people of Temesa, attacking both old and young, until, when the inhabitants had resolved to flee from Italy for good, the Pythian priestess forbad them to leave Temesa, and ordered them to propitiate the Hero, setting him a sanctuary apart and building a temple, and to give him every year as wife the fairest maiden in Temesa.
So they performed the commands of the god and suffered no more terrors from the ghost. But Euthymos happened to come to Temesa just at the time when the ghost was being propitiated in the usual way; learning what was going on he had a strong desire to enter the temple, and not only to enter it but also to look at the maiden. When he saw her he first felt pity and afterwards love for her. The girl swore to marry him if he saved her, and so Euthymos with his armour on awaited the onslaught of the ghost.
He won the fight, and the Hero was driven out of the land and disappeared, sinking into the depth of the sea. Euthymos had a distinguished wedding, and the inhabitants were freed from the ghost for ever. I heard another story also about Euthymos, how that he reached extreme old age, and escaping again from death departed from among men in another way. Temesa is still inhabited, as I heard from a man who sailed there as a merchant.
This I heard, and I also saw by chance a picture dealing with the subject. It was a copy of an ancient picture. There were a stripling, Sybaris, a river, Calabrus, and a spring, Lyca. Besides, there were a hero-shrine and the city of Temesa, and in the midst was the ghost that Euthymos cast out. Horribly black in color, and exceedingly dreadful in all his appearance, he had a wolf’s skin thrown round him as a garment. The letters on the picture gave his name as Lycas.
Another example of the bull-wolf ritual combat theme I have previously delineated. Which means that while people usefully draw comparisons between Euthymos’ story and Herakles’ contest with Acheloos for the hand of Dionysos’ daughter Deïanira, as described in Sophokles’ Trachiniae:
I had a river as a suitor, Acheloos, who asked my father for my hand in three shapes, coming now as a bull plain to see, now as a slithering, coiling serpent, now bull-faced with a man’s body; and streams of fresh water poured from his shaggy beard. Anticipating such a suitor, I, wretch, prayed continually to die, before I ever drew near such a marriage bed. (9-17)
I think an even more useful comparison is with the story of Theseus and the Minotaur:
And by means of the ingenuity of Daidalos Pasiphae had intercourse with the bull and gave birth to the Minotaur, famed in the myth. This creature, they say, was of double form, the upper parts of the body as far as the shoulders being those of a bull and the remaining parts those of a man. As a place in which to keep this monstrous thing Daidalos, the story goes, built a labyrinth, the passage-ways of which were so winding that those unfamiliar with them had difficulty in making their way out; in this labyrinth the Minotaur was maintained and here it devoured the seven youths and seven maidens which were sent to it from Athens, in recompense for the murder of Minos’ son Androgeus. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.77.1)
There is even a tradition where Euthymos disguised himself as the maiden who was to be deflowered by Lycas, much as transvestitism played a role in the Oschophoria celebrating Theseus’ triumphant return and that Ariadne never set foot on Attic soil.
Which is significant since in the Orphic gold lamellae found in Southern Italy the initiate is instructed to proclaim Ἀστέριος ὄνομα. This could just be a suggestive synchronicity except that the epilogue of the Minoan myth took place in Sicily:
Minos, the king of the Cretans, who was at that time the master of the seas, when he learned that Daedalus had fled to Sicily, decided to make a campaign against that island. After preparing a notable naval force he sailed forth from Crete and landed at a place in the territory of Acragas which was called after him Minoa. Here he disembarked his troops and sending messengers to King Cocalus he demanded Daedalus of him for punishment. But Cocalus invited Minos to a conference, and after promising to meet all his demands he brought him to his home as a guest. And when Minos was bathing Cocalus kept him too long in the hot water and thus slew him; the body he gave back to the Cretans, explaining his death on the ground that he had slipped in the bath and by falling into the hot water had met his end. Thereupon the comrades of Minos buried the body of the king with magnificent ceremonies, and constructing a tomb of two storeys, in the part of it which was hidden underground they placed the bones, and in that which lay open to gaze they made a shrine of Aphrodite. Here Minos received honours over many generations, the inhabitants of the region offering sacrifices there in the belief that the shrine was Aphrodite’s; but in more recent times, after the city of the Acragantini had been founded and it became known that the bones had been placed there, it came to pass that the tomb was dismantled and the bones were given back to the Cretans, this being done when Theron was lord over the people of Acragas. (Diodoros Sikeleiotes, Library of History 4.79.1-4)
And not just anywhere in Sicily – but specifically the home of Empedokles. So I think in the fragment I opened with Empedokles is drawing a comparison between the Locrian man-faced bull hero Euthymos and the more widely known bull-faced man Asterios the Minotaur, one with profound implications when you consider Euthymos’ role in the baptismal and eschatogamic mysteries at the Grotta Caruso. (Especially since it comes in a discussion about Aphrodite and Nestis, likely a local name for Persephone.)
All of which is a good example of the bricolage method that characterizes ancient Orphism:
I propose a re-examination of the ancient evidence that takes seriously the model, proposed by Burkert and others, of itinerant religious specialists competing for religious authority among a varying clientele. Rather than looking for a coherent set of sacred texts canonical to people who considered themselves Orphics, texts expressive of doctrines pertaining to sin, salvation, and afterlife, we should look for the products of bricolage, pieced together from widely available traditional material to meet the demand of clients looking for extra-ordinary solutions to their problems. If the texts and rituals are products of bricolage, however, and their creators bricoleurs competing for authority, we cannot expect to find either consistency of texts or doctrines, merely a loose family resemblance between composites of the same traditional elements. A redefinition of ancient Orphism requires a polythetic definition that accommodates the complexities of the ancient contexts rather than the sort of monothetic definition that identifies Orphism by its scriptures and doctrines. Nevertheless, the attempt to force the evidence into this preconceived modern construct has created unnecessary confusions in interpretation, as, e.g., the debate over the Orphic status of the author of the Derveni papyrus shows. (Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, Redefining Ancient Orphism)
And though Empedokles never explicitly references Orpheus a lot of his cosmological speculation agrees with the various Orphic theogonies that have come down to us and he, himself, seems to have engaged in activities similar to the Orpheotelestai. Compare Plato’s account:
But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Republic 2.364a–365b)
With what Empedokles describes in the Katharmoi or Purifications:
And thou shalt learn all the drugs that are a defense against ills and old age; since for thee alone will I accomplish all this. Thou shalt arrest the violence of the weariless winds that arise to sweep the earth and waste the fields; and again, when thou so desirest, thou shalt bring back their blasts in return. Thou shalt cause for men a seasonable drought after the dark rains, and again thou shalt change the summer drought for streams that feed the trees as they pour down from the sky. Thou shalt bring back from Hades the life of a dead man … Friends, that inhabit the great town looking down on the yellow rock of Akragas, up by the citadel, busy in goodly works, harbors of honor for the stranger, men unskilled in meanness, all hail. I go about among you divine and no longer mortal, honored among all as is meet, crowned with fillets and flowery garlands. Straightway, whenever I enter with these in my train, both men and women, into the flourishing towns, is reverence done me they go after me in countless throngs, asking of me what is the way to gain; some desiring oracles, while some, who for many a weary day have been pierced by the grievous pangs of all manner of sickness, beg to hear from me the word of healing.