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Valeria Piano

As one of the most ancient Greek papyri ever found (it dates back to the second half of the 4th century bce), and given the length of its extant part, the Derveni papyrus effectively represents the oldest “book” of Europe. It was found at Derveni, near Thessaloniki, in 1962, close to the rich tomb of a knight belonging to the army of Philip II or Alexander the Great. The volumen had been placed on the funeral pyre along with other offerings, and thanks to the process of semi-carbonisation it underwent, the upper half of the roll was preserved, maintaining a good degree of readability. The papyrus contains a philosophical-religious text, mostly in the form of an allegorical commentary on a theo-cosmogonical poem attributed to Orpheus. The first columns expound a religious and ritual discourse that deals with issues related to sacrifices, souls, daimones, retribution, cosmic justice, and divination. In the commentary (cols. VII–XXVI), the Orphic hexameters are systematically quoted and interpreted in terms of natural philosophy of a Presocratic brand. The mythical narrative of the succession of the gods, as well as of the origin of the cosmos, is thus matched by a cosmological and physical account, which is equally related to the origin and the functioning of the universe, and is sustained by a theologised conception of nature.



N. R. E. Fisher

Hubris, intentionally dishonouring behaviour, was a powerful term of moral condemnation in ancient Greece; and in Athens, and perhaps elsewhere, it was also treated as a serious crime. The common use of hubris in English to suggest pride, over-confidence, or alternatively any behaviour which offends divine powers, rests, it is now generally held, on misunderstanding of ancient texts, and concomitant and over-simplified views of Greek attitudes to the gods have lent support to many doubtful, and often over-Christianizing, interpretations, above all of Greek tragedy.The best ancient discussion of hubris is found in *Aristotle's Rhetoric: his definition is that hubris is ‘doing and saying things at which the victim incurs shame, not in order that one may achieve anything other than what is done, but simply to get pleasure from it. For those who act in return for something do not commit hubris, they avenge themselves. The cause of the pleasure for those committing hubris is that by harming people, they think themselves superior; that is why the young and the rich are hubristic, as they think they are superior when they commit hubris’ (Rh.


For most Greek states our evidence is too poor and patchy for us to be able to say much. We know a little about 5th-cent. bce Athens. Sir K. Popper famously praised it as an ‘open society’ but the tolerance of that society had limits. There is some evidence for literary censorship, though of a haphazard and perhaps ineffective sort. *Phrynichus(1) got into trouble near the beginning of the century for putting on a *tragedy dealing with a sensitive political topic (Hdt. 6.21). Between 440 and 437 bce there were formal restrictions on ridicule in theatrical comedy (Fornara no. 111 with the important discussion of ‘political censorship’ at DFA3 364; cf. comedy (greek), old, § 4). On the other hand there were (Dover and Stone) no ‘witch-hunts’ against intellectuals, though *Anaxagoras and other associates of *Pericles(1) were prosecuted in the courts. Anaxagoras' ostensible offence was impiety, and the decree of *Diopeithes, if historical, would provide hard evidence for public control of religious teaching.