an Athenian who occupies an interesting position in the history of the early Greek religious poetry. Herodotus informs us that he had enjoyed the patronage of Hipparchus, until he was detected by Lasus of Hermione (the dithyrambic poet) in making an interpolation in an oracle of Musaeus, for which Hipparchus banished him. He seems to have gone into Persia, where the Peisistratids, after their expulsion from Athens, took him again into favour, and employed him to persuade Xerxes to engage in his expedition against Greece, by reciting to him all the ancient oracles which seemed to favour the attempt, and suppressing those of a contrary tendency. (The History of Herodotus)
It has been amply proved by Lobeck and Nitzsch that the words of Herodotus, quoted above, mean that Onomacritus was an utterer of ancient oracles, however preserved, and that he had made a collection and arrangement of the oracles ascribed to Musaeus. And this is quite in keeping with the literary character of the age of the Peisistratidae, and with other traditions respecting Onomacritus himself, as, for example, that he made interpolations in Homer as well as in Musaeus, and that he was the real author of some of the poems which went under the name of Orpheus.
The account of Herodotus fixes the date of Onomacritus to about b. c. 520—485, and shows the error of those ancient writers who placed him as early as the fiftieth Olympiad, b. c. 580.
The account of Herodotus, respecting the forgeries of Onomacritus, is confirmed by Pausanias, who speaks of certain verses which were ascribed to Musaeus, but which, in his opinion, were composed by Onomacritus, for that there was nothing which could be ascribed with certainty to Musaeus, except the hymn to Demeter which he composed for the Lycomidae.
In three other passages Pausanias cites the poems of Onomacritus but without any intimation that they were or pretended to be any others than his own. That Pausanias does not refer in these last passages to poems which went under the names of the old mythological bards, but were in reality composed by Onomacritus, is rendered probable by the manner in which he generally refers to such supposititious works and, moreover, in two of the three passages he quotes Onomacritus in comparison with Homer and Hesiod.
But if, for these reasons, the poems so quoted must be regarded as having been ascribed to Onomacritus in the time of Pausanias, it does not follow that they were, in any proper sense, the original compositions of Onomacritus ; but it rather seems probable that they were remnants of ancient hymns, the authors of which were unknown, and that the labours of Onomacritus consisted simply in editing them, no doubt with interpolations of his own.
The last of the three passages quoted from Pausanias gives rise to a curious question. Pausanias quotes Hesiod as saying that the Graces were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, and that their names were Euphrosyne and Aglaia and Thalia, and then adds that the same account is given in the poems of Onomacritus.
Some writers have hastily taken this as a proof that the true author of the still extant Orphic hymns was Onomacritus, or else, as others more cautiously put it, that Onomacritus was one of the authors of them, and that this hymn at least is to be ascribed to him. It proves, if anything, the direct contrary of this ; for, had the hymn in question borne the name of Orpheus in the time of Pausanias, he would have so quoted it, to say nothing of the difference between the name Eurynome in Pausanias and Eunomia in the hymn.
The truth is that the date of the extant Orphic hymns is centuries later than the time of Onomacritus. That Onomacritus, however, did publish poems under the name of Orpheus, as well as of Musaeus, is probable from several testimonies, among which is that of Aristotle, who held that there never was such a poet as Orpheus, and that the poems known under his name were fabricated partly by Cercops, and partly by Onomacritus.
From these statements it appears that the literary character of Onomacritus must be regarded as quite subordinate to his religious position; that he was not a poet who cultivated the art for its own sake, but a priest, who availed himself of the ancient religious poems for the support of the worship to which he was attached. Of what character that worship was, may be seen from the statement of Pausanias, that "Onomacritus, taking from Homer the name of the Titans, composed (or, established, orgies to Dionysus, and represented in his poems the Titans as the authors of the sufferings of Dionysus."
Here we have, in fact, the great Orphic myth of Dionysus Zagreus, whose worship it thus seems was either established or rearranged by Onomacritus, who must therefore be regarded as one of the chief leaders of the Orphic theology, and the Orphic societies.
Some modern writers, as Ulrici, think it probable that Onomacritus was the real author of the Orphic Theogony, to which others again assign a still earlier date.
There is an obscure reference in Aristotle to "Onomacritus, a
Locrian," the first distinguished legislator, who practised
gymnastic exercises in Crete, and travelled abroad on account of
the art of divination, and who was a contemporary of