Monday, November 24, 2008

In Search of Orpheus

By Ioannis Fidanakis

The Slavization of Hellenic history, mythology, and identity is no longer a phenomenon that only threatens Alexander the Great and Macedonia. It has now materialized to threaten the legacy of Thracian Hellenism. A silent and seemingly unanswered push for the Slavization of ancient Thracian history is taking place today. This revisionist assault on the Hellenic identity has oddly enough gone ‘overlooked’ by the Hellenic establishment. Are Thrace and its rich legacy that easily disguarded? Where anyone looks, whether it is American television like the History Channel or the Internet with You Tube, Bulgarian claims on Thrace go unanswered by Hellenism. Their most recent claim, that the Thracian Orpheus is not Hellenic makes one wonder how far they are willing to go to disassociate Thrace from the ancient Hellenic world.

Who was Orpheus

Historically speaking, Orpheus was a prophet, religious reformer, and martyr. Legend claims he was born in the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace, and was the King of the Cicones tribe. He was the son of King Oeagrus and the muse Calliope. Orpheus was known to have learned to play the lyre from the God Apollo and his skill was known to be able to charm man and beast. He took part in the quest for the Golden Fleece, traveling with Jason and the Argonauts, and even saved them from Sirens with his lyre.

Orpheus was the ancient world’s Romeo, and his Juliet was the nymph Eurydice. While fleeing the son of Apollo, Eurydice ran across a nest of snakes, which fatally wounded her on her heel. Heartbroken and distraught by the lost of his love, Orpheus began to play the saddest songs, which caused all the nymphs and gods to wept. Unable to live without his wife, Orpheus bravely traveled to the underworld and with the aid of his lyre he persuaded Hades to allow Eurydice to return to earth on one condition. A condition that was so simple that Orpheus failed to heed Hades’ words. Unable to keep his eyes off his love, Eurydice, he did the one thing he was forbidden to do until they reached the surface. He turned around to look upon his wife, only to see her fade away from him forever.


Orphism, a religious movement which bears Orpheus’ name is a reformed practice of Dionysianism. It appears to be more intellectual and controlled, compared to Dionysianism, while still seeking immortality through divinity. In Orphic theology, the body was seen as an evil thing, while the soul was divine and immortal. “In its first analysis, therefore, the Orphic process of salvation was a process of purification from bodily taint. The problem, however, was not such a simple one as these words would indicate. It was not merely from the evils of a single existence that the Orphic sought deliverance, but from the evils of a long series of bodily existences. The Orphic first, and the Pythagorean later, believed in the transmigration of souls from body to body. On leaving the corpse at death, the soul was normally doomed to inhabit the bodies of other men or of animals even, passing on through a chain of physical existences until finally purified. (1)” A known example of ones devotion to Orphism was the Orphic way of life. This entailed followers practicing vegetarianism, abstention from sex, and refraining from eating eggs and beans.
Bulgarian Propaganda

In recent years, Bulgaria has begun to open its eyes and hearts to the ancient civilization that is Thrace. We have witnesses a growing support within the Bulgarian establishment to learn more about this ancient culture and people that once flourished within the Balkans. However, as this wonderful thirst for knowledge is beginning, there are those within the Bulgarian establishment, which hope to twist history to help their country’s current status. What we are witnessesing is the Slavization of the ancient Thracian civilization to help benefit the current Slavo-Turkic nation of Bulgaria.

In 2005, Bulgaria for the first time began to show outrage, that Hellas was using an ancient Hellenic hero in one of its newest advertising campaigns. Until recently Bulgarian knew nothing of the ancient kingdom that its modern nation now rests upon. However, with recent archaeological finds, Bulgaria has begun to claim the entire ancient Thracian civilization was there own. "Orpheus lived in Bulgaria," Prof Nikolay Ovcharov, a Bulgarian archaeologist, said. "Greeks say he was Greek, but it's not true, that is simply Greek nationalism. (2)” At the time, Alexandra Christopoulou of Athens’s National Archaeological Museum, answered this attack on the Hellenic national identity saying, "Nations claim Greek heroes all the time…It happened with Alexander the Great and now with Orpheus. Bulgaria did not even exist at the time.(3)”

In 2007, Bulgaria introduced its new tourist promotion in Switzerland, and could anyone be surprised who the face of this new promotion was? Orpheus, the Hellenic hero, who only two years earlier Bulgaria had shown so much outraged for Hellas’s attempt to use him in the same manner. Now Bulgaria has used his memory into their new tourism ad, using the motto, "Bulgaria - the sacred land of Orpheus (4)”


Hellenism now finds itself at a very historical cross-road. We have before us three paths. The first being the most unpatriotic, leading us to revisionist injustice towards our ancestors. The second, a path which will only lead us to a new “Thracian Question”, which would mirror our current struggle with Skopje. The last path before us is one of a higher choice. A choice that some may even claim revolutionary. Rather then fighting to prevent the Bulgarianization of Thracian heritage, we should be working to use Bulgaria’s Thracian past to de-Bulgarianize its people. There should be cooperation between professors and archaeologist, with Hellenic teachers and archaeologist going to Bulgaria to teach of the Hellenic character of Thrace. All in hopes of setting free the enslaved Thracian identity within Bulgaria. This eye opening path could lead to the Re-Hellenization of Northern Thrace. The disappearance of Slavic linguistical domination and perhaps even the end of the continued Bulgar identity. Whichever path the Hellenic establishment will decide to travel, we can only sit back and watch. However, does the current elitist leadership have the right to choose this path or does the collective will of Hellenism hold the right to such a decision?


2. Quetteville, Harry de, “Bulgarians rage over ‘Orpheus and liars’, Athens, 07/03/2005

3. Quetteville, Harry de, “Bulgarians rage over ‘Orpheus and liars’, Athens, 07/03/2005

4. Orpheus Promotes Bulgaria in Switzerland, 25 October 2007