Author Identifiers

Glen McKnight
ORCID: 0000-0002-7934-2614

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Associate Professor Susn Ash


This thesis shows how The Orphic Hymns function as a katábasis, a descent to the underworld, representing a process of becoming and psychological rebirth. I begin with the Greek concept of sparagmόs, a dismemberment or deconstruction, as a necessary precursor in that it emphasises at once both primordial unity and yet also the incipient tensions within the Orphic initiates on this path to katabasis. The argument herein extends beyond literary explication to consider how the Orphics sought to enact this process in Greek society itself.

The thesis then establishes the connections between the Hymns and the thinking of Nietzsche and Jung. Each writer drew influences from Orphism, which influenced modern thinkers in turn. I argue that the dynamic between key Orphic pairs, such as Orpheus and Eurydike, or Persephone and Demeter, reflects aspects of the psychosocial process of individuation, that is, from darkness to light, or from fractured to psychological wholeness.

Finally, this thesis demonstrates how the poetry of Rilke and H.D. functions as an Orphic katabasis. Both the Hymns and these early twentieth century poets (Rilke in “Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes” and H.D. in “Eurydice”) treat Eurydike as an aspect of Persephone, reclaiming Eurydike as a goddess of rebirth. I argue that their purpose is to resist hegemonic and authoritarian violence in their respective contexts.