Petelia Gold Tablet
|Petelia Gold Tablet|
The Petelia Gold Tablet (with case and chain) in the British Museum
|Size||4.5cm long (tablet)|
|Created||3rd-2nd Centuries BC (tablet)|
|Present location||British Museum, London|
The Petelia Gold Tablet or Petelia Tablet is an orphic inscription or totenpass that was found near the ancient city of Petelia, southern Italy in the early nineteenth century. Since 1843, the original has been kept in the British Museum.
In 1830s an inscribed gold tablet was unearthed at the ancient Greek site of Petelia near Strongoli in Calabria. Little is known of the circumstances of the find and its subsequent provenance before it was acquired by the British Museum from the archaeologist and collector James Millingen in 1843.
The small gold tablet is inscribed in ancient Greek with an Orphic saying and dates from between 300-200 BC. The gold case and chain designed to hold it is much later in manufacture, having been made over 400 years later during the Roman times. The ancient Thracian prophet Orpheus, who was often represented as a musician or poet, founded a cult that promised a happy afterlife to the initiated. Many of his temples or shrines were considered oracles by his devotees. The Petelia Gold Tablet probably came from one of his shrines in southern Italy and demonstrates the widespread distribution of orphism in antiquity.
Translation of the inscription
- ΣΣΙΝΑΝΑΞΕΙ[……. .]ΝΗΣΤΟΔΕΙ̣[
- in right margin: Τ̣Ο̣Γ̣Λ̣Ω̣Σ̣Ε̣Ι̣Π̣Α̣ΣΚΟΤΟΣΑΜΦΙΚΑΛΥΨΑΣ
- You will find in the halls of Hades a spring on the left,
- and standing by it, a glowing white cypress tree;
- Do not approach this spring at all.
- You will find another, from the lake of Memory
- refreshing water flowing forth. But guardians are nearby.
- Say: “I am the child of Earth and starry Heaven;
- But my race is heavenly; and this you know yourselves.
- I am parched with thirst and I perish; but give me quickly
- refreshing water flowing forth from the lake of Memory.”
- And then they will give you to drink from the divine spring,
- And then you will celebrate? [rites? with the other] heroes.
- This [is the ? … of Memory, when you are about] to die ..
- in right margin: ……].?? shadow covering around
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- Edmonds III, R.G. (ed.). The ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets and Greek Religion. Cambridge University Press, 2011
- Graf, Fritz & Johnston, Sarah Iles. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. London & New York: Routledge, 2007
- Jenner T, Ritual Performance and the Gold Leaves in Percutio 3, 2009
- Jenner T, The Gold Leaf from Petelia, ka mate ka ora: a New Zealand journal of poetry and poetics, 2012
- Smith C, "The Petelia Gold Tablet." The Journal of Hellenic Studies 3 (1882): 111-18.