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Classics Hosts International Conference on Newly Found Ancient Text

February 21, 2024

Many top scholars of ancient Greek religion, particularly specialists in Dionysiac and Orphic materials, will be taking part in the international conference Discovering Dionysos in the Sinai Palimpsest: New Mysteries of the Ancient Orphica? at Bryn Mawr on March 1 and 2.



The conference is focused on explaining a text first published in 2021 by Giulia Rossetto, an assistant professor at the University of Vienna, who uncovered a poetic text that recounts episodes from the childhood of the god Dionysos. Rossetto was studying manuscripts from the Monastery of St. Catharine in Sinai as part of the “Sinai Palimpsests Project” when she found that one of the texts (Sin. ar. NF 66) had been written on reused parchment that contained the much older Greek text, and she has proposed that it may be the first direct witness of the lost Orphic Rhapsodies.

"The strange and fascinating text on the palimpsest may provide our first glimpse of this important lost work. Even if it is not actually part of the Orphic Rhapsodies, it provides versions of the myths of Dionysos found nowhere else in our extant evidence.” 

“The Orphic Rhapsodies have been known only through quotations by other authors, so it would be exciting to find even a small portion of this lost text,” explains Radcliffe Edmonds, professor of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies and an organizer of the event. “Many of the quotations come from the works of Neoplatonic philosophers in the Roman Empire, who considered the Rhapsodies as the repository of the ancient wisdom of the poet Orpheus. Ancient Christians also quoted from this text in their attacks on the religious ideas of the pagans, as they, too, saw Orpheus as the most ancient authority of the tradition. The strange and fascinating text on the palimpsest may provide our first glimpse of this important lost work. Even if it is not actually part of the Orphic Rhapsodies, it provides versions of the myths of Dionysos found nowhere else in our extant evidence.”

Edmonds has done extensive research on Orphic texts and was among a select group of scholars to take part in a 2021 workshop on Rossetto’s discovery. While some scholars still regard Orphism as a cohesive doctrine, this outlook is not shared by Edmonds. As he argued in one of his recent books Redefining Ancient Orphism, the patchwork of materials considered to be “Orphic” are from a loosely related tradition of independent and sometimes overlapping poems rather than the kind of cohesive, bible-like religious doctrine that would be familiar to most people today.

The conference at the beginning of March brings together experts from around the world (both senior scholars and more junior researchers, including Rossetto) to discuss the relation of this text to other known Orphic texts and to the broader mythological tradition. While Rossetto’s earlier workshop was focused on deciphering the text of the palimpsest, the speakers at this conference will explore the interpretation of the narrative fragments in detail, examining the peculiar versions of the myths and figuring out how they fit within the context of the larger tradition.  The conference is open to the public, and the Bryn Mawr community is especially invited to attend. The conference will be accessible via Zoom for those who cannot attend in person, and registration links are available on the website.

The conference is organized by Edmonds, working together with Luisina Abrach, a post-doctoral Fulbright Fellow at Bryn Mawr from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina and Professor Anne-France Morand of Université Laval, Québec.  The conference is sponsored by the Bryn Mawr College Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies; the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art; the Offices of the President and the Provost of Bryn Maw College; Global Bryn Mawr; the Departments of Classics at Haverford College and Swarthmore College; the 1902 Lecture Fund; and the Groupe de recherche sur l'Antiquité (GRANT) of the Université Laval.  It is being hosted by the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies.

One of the original departments founded when Bryn Mawr opened in 1885, the Department of Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies has a rich history at Bryn Mawr and beyond. From its early days, Bryn Mawr has had an international reputation in Classical languages, and the College is home to a lively community of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members interested in Classical subjects. There are two different tracks for undergraduates who wish to major within the department: Classical Culture and Society and Classical Languages, and the Department also offers Masters and Doctoral degrees.

For more information, please contact Radcliffe Edmonds ( or Izzy Martin (

Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies