The Gold Leaves (being an account and translation from the Ancient Greek of the so-called ‘Orphic’ Gold Tablets), by Edward Jenner (Atuanui Press, 2014), 162 pp., $35
Jenner begins by situating himself among the group that sees these gold leaves as signs of ‘experimental speculations’ (a term used by the late Walter Burkert), concerning the separate and enduring life of the soul. An epigraph from Plato’s Phaedo 62b sets the mood for Jenner’s inquiry:
The account found in secret doctrines that we
men live in a sort of prison from which there
is no escape, seems to me both profound and
difficult to fathom.
Jenner’s mood is calm, his language precise, his research cautious. He is intent on ‘[bringing] the Leaves to the attention of the reader who has no background in Classics or Ancient Greek’ but who ‘shares an interest in pre-Christian ideas about the soul, the Underworld, and the afterlife’. He promises to ‘attempt a coherent and consistent interpretation of their meaning and purpose’. He acknowledges that only a few leaves have been uncovered, and that the variety of theories about them rivals the diversity and versions of Greek myths themselves. A lamella would have been laid flat upon the lips of the defunct or upon his or her right hand or chest; it was sometimes folded or rolled up and, when rolled (if Margherita Guarducci is correct) it may have been placed inside the mouth of the dead person. An example of a lamella, faithful in dimensions, is reproduced on the cover in stunning gold against a shiny black cover. The book is well-executed, hand-bound and machine printed on quality paper. [Read more…]