Extra-ordinary People:
Mystai and Magoi, Magicians and Orphics in the Derveni Papyrus

 

                  The Derveni papyrus provides an opportunity for a re-examination of both ancient and modern categories, magic and Orphism as well as mystai and magoi. Through his text, the Derveni author distinguishes himself from the magoi but portrays himself in terms that would make his contemporaries identify him as an Orphic, that is, the kind of person associated with Orpheus and his texts. The Derveni author's ways of defining himself and his religious authority in contrast to his rivals show how the ancient categories were articulated and point up the flaws in the modern constructions of magic and Orphism, particularly those that take as central particular doctrines about the nature of the soul or the gods. For both 'magic' and 'Orphism', we can distinguish self-definitions of special status from the constructions by others of these categories of abnormal practice. Not only can the margins be defined by those in the center who want to exclude or devalue others, but abnormal behavior can be self-defined by those who wish to devalue the norm in contrast to their own superior behavior.  Both of these types of ancient constructs, however, differ significantly from modern constructs of 'magic' and 'Orphism'. The double nature of these extra-ordinary categories can help make sense of the curious constellation of miracle and charlatanry, of purity and impiety, that appears in the ancient evidence for 'magic' and 'Orphism'.  A better understanding of the nature and interrelation of the ancient and modern categories will help us better to comprehend the evidence, not just from the Derveni papyrus, but from the many sources for ancient Greek religion.