Orpheus And The Cow: Indo-European Inheritance And Virgilian Variation In Georgics 4

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The epyllion with which Virgil concludes his Georgics consists of a remarkable combination of elements that coincide here and nowhere else in extant Classical literature. This dissertation participates in the ongoing debate as to whether the epyllion's seemingly unique narrative does indeed constitute a Virgilian innovation, or whether it is rather founded on an anteceding narrative. In particular, this study focuses on Virgil's incorporation of the aetiology of the bougonia, the process according to which bees can supposedly be generated from a bovine carcass, into his account of the fate of Orpheus. The evidence accumulated in this dissertation leads its author to the conclusion that Virgil's text does indeed owe something of its composition to a previously established tradition emphasizing a significant relationship between Orpheus and cows. The first three chapters endeavor to demonstrate that several instances in Greek myth and religion show traces of such an erstwhile connection between Orpheus and bovines. The instances in question are 1. a variety of contexts pertaining to the myth of Dionysus' infanticide and subsequent rebirth, which apparently possessed special relevance in Orphic milieux, 2. the narrative of Hermes' invention of the lyre, which appears to possess affinities with Orphic mythology and ideology, and 3. the events that occur during Orpheus' contest with the Sirens in the Argonautic narrative. The fourth and final chapter applies comparative evidence from Vedic India to Virgil's amalgamation of Orpheus and the bougonia. Operating within the framework of Indo-European methodology, the author submits that the Rig Veda's references to the supernatural activities involving a cow accomplished by the Rbhus, whose appellation is arguably cognate with ̥ Orpheus' name, comprises the Indic equivalent of Virgil's Orpheus-bougonia complex. This comparandum indicates that the tradition putatively providing the basis of Virgil's epyllion was one inherited by the Greeks from Indo-European tradition. The author's position is that an awareness of the traditional foundation of Virgil's epyllion both increases our understanding of how the Orpheus-bougonia complex reflects Orphic ideology and enhances our appreciation of the ways in which Virgil appears to have adapted the tradition on which his variations depend.

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Orpheus and Orphic mythology; Cows in mythology; Indo-European comparative mythology


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Ahl, Frederick M

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Weiss, Michael L
Pelliccia, Hayden Newhall
Nagy, Gregory

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Ph. D., Classics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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