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Melinoë (/mɪˈlɪn/; Ancient Greek: Μηλινόη) is a chthonic nymph or goddess invoked in one of the Orphic Hymns and represented as a bringer of nightmares and madness.[1] The name also appears on a metal tablet in association with Persephone.[2] The hymns are of uncertain date but were probably composed in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. In the hymn, Melinoë has characteristics that seem similar to Hecate and the Erinyes,[3] and the name is sometimes thought to be an epithet of Hecate.[4] The terms in which Melinoë is described are typical of moon goddesses in Greek poetry.


Melinoë may derive from Greek mēlinos (μήλινος), "having the colour of quince", from mēlon (μῆλον), "tree fruit".[5] The fruit's yellowish-green colour evoked the pallor of illness or death for the Greeks. A name derived from melas, "black", would be melan-, not melin-.[6]


The Souls of Acheron (1898) by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl

Following is the translation by Apostolos Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow, of the hymn to Melinoe:

I call upon Melinoe, saffron-cloaked nymph of the earth,
whom revered Persephone bore by the mouth of the Kokytos river
upon the sacred bed of Kronian Zeus.
In the guise of Plouton Zeus and tricked Persephone and through wiley plots bedded her;
a two-bodied specter sprang forth from Persephone's fury.
This specter drives mortals to madness with her airy apparitions
as she appears in weird shapes and strange forms,
now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness—
all this in unnerving attacks in the gloom of night.
O goddess, O queen of those below, I beseech you
to banish the soul's frenzy to the ends of the earth,
show to the initiates a kindly and holy face.[7]


Melinoë is the daughter of Persephone and was fathered by Hades or Zeus.[8]

A major contributory factor surrounding Melinoe's birth is the fact that Hades and Zeus were, at times, syncretised with each other.[9][10] The Orphics in particular believed that Zeus and Hades were the same deity and portrayed them as such.[11][12] Zeus was portrayed as having an incarnation in the underworld identifying him as literally being Hades and leading to Zeus and Hades essentially being two representations and different facets of the same god and extended divine power.[13][14] The Orphic Hymn to Melinoë also references this by mentioning that Persephone was impregnated upon the bed of Zeus Kronion in the Underworld by the River Cocytus. The hymn regarding Zeus taking on the form of Plouton before impregnating Persephone was very much related to the very nature of the way the gods were portrayed and worshiped in the Orphic Religion, as well as be the explanation for why both Hades and Zeus are considered to be the father of Melinoë; moreover it is believed that Persephone's resulting anger is derived from several things: the separation from her mother,[15][16] the loss of her virginity,[17][18] and the fact she had been impregnated,[19][20] thus bearing children from that union.[21][22]

Melinoë is born at the mouth of the Cocytus, one of the rivers of the underworld, where Hermes in his underworld aspect as psychopomp was stationed.[23] In the Orphic tradition, the Cocytus is one of four underworld rivers.[24]

Although some Greek myths deal with themes of incest, in Orphic genealogies lines of kinship express theological and cosmogonical concepts, not the realities of human family relations.[25] The ancient Greek nymphē in the first line can mean "nymph", but also "bride" or "young woman".[6] As an underworld "queen" (Basileia), Melinoë is at least partially syncretized with Persephone herself.[26]

Attributes and functions[edit]

Melinoë is described in the invocation of the Orphic Hymn as κροκόπεπλος (krokopeplos), "clad in saffron" (see peplos), an epithet in ancient Greek poetry for moon goddesses.[27] In the hymns, only two goddesses are described as krokopeplos, Melinoë and Hecate.[28]

Melinoë's connections to Hecate and Hermes suggest that she exercised her power in the realm of the soul's passage, and in that function may be compared to the torchbearer Eubouleos in the mysteries.[29]

According to the hymn, she brings night terrors to mortals by manifesting in strange forms, "now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness", and can drive mortals insane. The purpose of the hymn is to placate her by showing that the Orphic initiate understands and respects her nature, thereby averting the harm she has the capacity for causing.

The translation of Thomas Taylor (1887) has given rise to a conception of Melinoe as half-black, half-white, representing the duality of the heavenly Zeus and the infernal Hades. This had been the interpretation of Gottfried Hermann in his annotated text of the hymns in 1805.[30] This duality may be implicit, like the explanation offered by Servius for why the poplar leaf has a light and dark side to represent Leuke ("White"), a nymph loved by Hades. The Orphic text poses interpretational challenges for translators in this passage.[31]


Bronze tablet (3rd century AD) from Pergamon invoking Melinoë along with Persephone and Leucophryne; the three goddesses pictured are labeled as Dione, Phoebe, and Nyche

Melinoë appears on a bronze tablet for use in the kind of private ritual usually known as "magic". The style of Greek letters on the tablet, which was discovered at Pergamon, dates it to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The use of bronze was probably intended to drive away malevolent spirits and to protect the practitioner. The construction of the tablet suggests that it was used for divination. It is triangular in shape, with a hole in the center, presumably for suspending it over a surface.

The content of the triangular tablet reiterates triplicity. It depicts three crowned goddesses, each with her head pointing at an angle and her feet pointing toward the center. The name of the goddess appears above her head: Dione (ΔΙΟΝΗ), Phoebe (ΦΟΙΒΙΗ), and the obscure Nyche (ΝΥΧΙΗ). Amibousa, a word referring to the phases of the moon, is written under each goddess's feet. Densely inscribed spells frame each goddess: the inscriptions around Dione and Nyche are voces magicae, incantatory syllables ("magic words") that are mostly untranslatable. Melinoë appears in a triple invocation that is part of the inscription around Phoebe: O Persephone, O Melinoë, O Leucophryne. Esoteric symbols are inscribed on the edges of the triangle.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Orphic Hymn 70 or 71 (numbering varies), as given by Richard Wünsch, Antikes Zaubergerät aus Pergamon (Berlin, 1905), p. 26:
    Μηλινόην καλέω, νύμφην χθονίαν, κροκόπεπλον,
    ἣν παρὰ Κωκυτοῦ προχοαῖς ἐλοχεύσατο σεμνὴ
    Φερσεφόνη λέκτροις ἱεροῖς Ζηνὸς Κρονίοιο
    ᾗ ψευσθεὶς Πλούτων᾽ἐμίγη δολίαις ἀπάταισι,
    θυμῷ Φερσεφόνης δὲ διδώματον ἔσπασε χροιήν,
    ἣ θνητοὺς μαίνει φαντάσμασιν ἠερίοισιν,
    ἀλλοκότοις ἰδέαις μορφῆς τὐπον έκκπροφανοῦσα,
    ἀλλοτε μὲν προφανής, ποτὲ δὲ σκοτόεσσα, νυχαυγής,
    ἀνταίαις ἐφόδοισι κατὰ ζοφοειδέα νύκτα.
    ἀλλἀ, θεά, λίτομαί σε, καταχθονίων Βασίλεια,
    ψυχῆς ἐκπέμπειν οἶστρον ἐπὶ τέρματα γαίης,
    εὐμενὲς εὐίερον μύσταις φαίνουσα πρόσωπον.
  2. ^ Edmonds, p. 100 n. 58; Athanassakis and Wolkow, p. 195.
  3. ^ Edmonds, pp. 84–85.
  4. ^ Ivana Petrovic, Von den Toren des Hades zu den Hallen des Olymp (Brill, 2007), p. 94; W. Schmid and O. Stählin, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur (C.H. Beck, 1924, 1981), vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 982; W.H. Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (Leipzig: Teubner, 1890–94), vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 16.
  5. ^ Morand, p. 127, citing H. Bannert, RE suppl. 15, entry on "Melinoe" (1978), p. 135.
  6. ^ a b Morand, p. 182.
  7. ^ Athanassakis and Wolkow, p. 57.
  8. ^ Melinoë is often regarded as being the daughter of Zeus as is explained in the hymn's mentioning that Melinoë has traits from Zeus.
  9. ^ Hillman, David C. A. (2013). Hermaphrodites, Gynomorphs and Jesus: She-male Gods and the roots of Christianity. Classics Ph.D. Ronin Publishing. ISBN 978-1579511715.
  10. ^ David Hillman “Hades and Zeus are the very same thing. Persephone and Semele are the very same thing. Dionysus is not just Dionysus, but Zagreus, Iacchos and Dionysus together, as a unity...” (Hermaphrodites, Gynomorphs and Jesus: She-male Gods and the roots of Christianity)
  11. ^ Wypustek, Andrzej (2012). Images of Eternal Beauty in Funerary Verse Inscriptions of the Hellenistic Period. BRILL. ISBN 978-9004233188.
  12. ^ Andrzej Wypustek (Ph.D) "Votive inscriptions frequently mentioned Pluto but very rarely Hades. Particularly at Eleusis, the Pluto cult was for a deity who, like Persephone and Demeter, was favourably disposed to humans. He was frequently portrayed as a majestic elder with a sceptre, ranch, cornucopia, pomegranate, or drinking vessel in his hand; sometimes he was accompanied by an eagle. His iconography resembled that of Zeus, and especially that of some chthonic personification of the ruler of the gods, above all Zeus Meilichios. We can now go a step further. The nearest equivalent to the contrast between Hades and Pluto as presented in the Theophile epigram can be found in the Orphic Hymns, which are assumed to have originated from the Τελεται of the Dionysiac mystic circles in Asia Minor of the 1st – 3rd centuries. Hymn 41 worships Antaia, i.e. Demeter, the goddess who had searched for her daughter in Hades and discovered her in ‘the sacred bed of the sacred chthonic Zeus’. This formulation in itself is not surprising because the name Zeus (as a synonym for a deity and ruler) was used in reference to Hades-Pluto as the ruler of the underworld. In an interesting, though, sadly, only partly preserved inscription from Appia-Murathanlar in the Tembris Valley (in 3rd century AD Phrygia) the deceased appeals to “Zeus, god of the dead [φθιηένων*], Pluto” to protect his grave. The term “Chthonic Zeus” could, however, mean something more than a mere euphemism for the name Hades. The idea of defining Zeus as χθόνιος, κατα (χθόνιος) ἄλλος or simply Hades had been present in ancient Greek literature from Homer to Nonnos. This was a sort of extension, aspect or ‘shadow’ of the universal power of Zeus in the kingdom of the dead, where he was the judge of the dead and the also the consort of Persephone-Kore.Moreover, he was the provider of riches, Πλουτοδότης; a personification which was abbreviated to Πλούτων. Among other things, he controlled the crops and it was to him (as well as to Demeter) that the farmers turned for the promise of a good harvest. These are hardly well known traditions today. Some scholars maintain that their obscurity is on account of the secret role they played in the mysteries. ... Therefore the Orphics worshipped Pluto as the saviour and judge of the deceased, as Zeus χθόνιος. They most likely assumed that Zeus had another embodiment of sorts in the underworld, in Hades. The effect of this assumption was the myth, known to us in several versions, of how Zeus had lain with Persephone (even though she was his daughter). The so-called great Orphic tablet of Thurii refers to the abduction of Persephone by Zeus, who then fathers her son, Dionysus. Their child was revered by the Orphics as Dionysus Zagreus, Dionysus Iacchus, which shows how much importance they attached to the love affair of that particular couple." (Images of Eternal Beauty in Funerary Verse Inscriptions of the Hellenistic Period)
  13. ^ Gantz, Timothy (1996). Early Greek Myth. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-5360-9.
  14. ^ Timothy Gantz "Thus it appears that at times Zeus and Hades represented simply different facets of a single extended divine power.” (Early Greek Myth)
  15. ^ Athanassakis, Apostolos N (2004). The Homeric Hymns. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801879833.
  16. ^ Homer's Hymn To Demeter "And he found the Lord inside his palace, seated on a funeral couch, along with his duly acquired bedmate, the one who was much under duress, yearning for her mother, and suffering from the unbearable things inflicted on her by the will of the blessed ones."
  17. ^ Thayer, Bill. "Claudian's Rape of Proserpina". LacusCurtius. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  18. ^ Claudian's Rape of Proserpina "Meanwhile, Proserpine is borne away in the winged car, her hair streaming before the wind, beating her arms in lamentation and calling in vain remonstrance to the clouds:  "Why hast thou not hurled at me, father, bolts forged by the Cyclopes' hands? Was this thy will to deliver thy daughter to the cruel shades and drive her for ever from this world? Does love move thee not at all? Hast thou nothing of a father's feeling? What ill deed of mine has stirred such anger in thee? When Phlegra raged with war's madness I bore no standard against the gods; 'twas through no strength of mine that ice-bound Ossa supported frozen Olympus. For attempt of what crime, for complicity with what guilt, am I thrust down in banishment to the bottomless pit of Hell? Happy girls whom other ravishers have stolen; they at least enjoy the general light of day, while I, together with my virginity, lose the air of heaven; stolen from me alike is innocence and daylight. Needs must I quit this world and be led a captive bride to serve Hell's tyrant. Ye flowers that I loved in so evil an hour, oh, why did I scorn my mother's warning? Too late did I detect the wiles of Venus. Mother, my mother, whether in the vales of Phrygian Ida the dread pipe sounds about thine ears with Lydian p339 strains, or thou hauntest mount Dindymus, ahowl with self-mutilated Galli, and beholdest the naked swords of the Curetes, aid me in my bitter need; frustrate Pluto's mad lust and stay the funereal reins of my fierce ravisher.”
  19. ^ Rigoglioso, Marguerite (2010). Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-11312-1.
  20. ^ Marguerite Rigoglioso "Persephone herself was destined to be a parthenogenetic mother but was interrupted in her task by the advent of a male god who wilfully and without permission used her to create his own 'double'. ... Diodorus Siculus mentions that Persephone had already taken the same choice of maidenhood as Athena and Artemis. ... Other evidence includes the fact that Persephone is connected to the pomegranate, the bee and weaving. These objects all represent parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction which needs no fertilisation; in the Orphic Persephone was weaving a peplos when she got raped, the peplos being another symbol of virginity and asexual conception. ... Given that Zeus was also sometimes portrayed as having an incarnation in the underworld that was closely identified with Hades, we can read here that Zeus and Hades were essentially two representations of the same god. ... The idea of Hades equals Dionysus, and that this dual god impregnated Persephone in the Eleusinian tradition, therefore, is in perfect accord with the story that Zeus impregnated her with Dionysus in Orphic myth, given that Hades equals Zeus, as well. Moreover, what we see from this esoteric complex is that, in seeding Persephone, Zeus/Hades/Dionysus created what Kerenyi perceptively calls “a second, a little Dionysus,” a “subterranean Zeus.” This insight, taken in the context of the parthenogenetic theory I have put forth here, allows for a sudden and striking realisation: The male godhead used Persephone as a means not just to procreate, but to self-replicate, to double himself in the way a goddess could do on her own. Because he lacked the power ascribed to the goddess alone-parthenogenetic ability he could only turn to the body of the goddess to emit the next generation of himself. He did so wilfully and without permission." (Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity)
  21. ^ Athanassakis, Wolkow, Apostolos N, Benjamin M (2013). The Orphic Hymns. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-1421408828.
  22. ^ Apostolos N Athanassakis & Benjamin M Wolkow "In Orphic mythology, he took the form of a snake when he father Dionysus by Persephone. Since Dionysus has the same parentage in the Hymns, it is possible that this act was understood by the initiates to have also produced Melinoë. The snake, as symbol of chthonic powers, would be an appropriate form to produce such an infernal creature, and both Dionysus and Melinoë are connected with madness."
  23. ^ Hymn to Chthonic Hermes (57); Morand, p. 182.
  24. ^ In other mythological traditions, it had been regarded as a branch of the Styx; Morand, p. 182.
  25. ^ Morand, pp. 184–185.
  26. ^ Morand, p. 185.
  27. ^ In the Iliad (8.1 and 19.1), the dawn goddess Eos is krokopeplos; Eva Parisinou, "Brightness Personified: Light and Divine Image in Ancient Greece," in Personification In The Greek World: From Antiquity To Byzantium (Ashgate, 2005), p. 34.
  28. ^ Morand, pp. 127, 182; Pierre Brulé, La fille d'Athènes: la religion des filles à Athènes à l'époque classique (CNRS, 1987), p. 242.
  29. ^ Morand, pp. 182, 185.
  30. ^ Gottfried Hermann, Orphica (Leipzig, 1805), p. 340.
  31. ^ Hermann, Orphica, p. 340.
  32. ^ Morand, p. 185ff.


  • Athanassakis, Apostolos N.; Wolkow, Benjamin M. (2013). The Orphic Hymns. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-1421408828.
  • Edmonds, Radcliffe G. (2014). Ken Dowden; Niall Livingstone (eds.). Orphic Mythology. A Companion to Greek Mythology. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1118785164.
  • Morand, Anne-France (2001). Études sur les Hymnes Orphiques Brill (in French). Brill. ISBN 978-9004120303.

External links[edit]