The J. Paul Getty Museum

Lamella Orphica

Object Details


Lamella Orphica






Greece (Place Created)


mid-fourth century B.C.



Object Number:



2.2 × 3.7 × 0.1 cm (7/8 × 1 7/16 × 1/16 in.)

Credit Line:

Gift of Lenore Barozzi

See more

See less

Object Description

Faced with the thought of a bleak existence in the Underworld, some individuals in the ancient Mediterranean sought to improve their lot while they were alive. Virtuous behavior might not be sufficient, and one way to obtain a happier afterlife was thought to be through initiation into mystery cults associated with Orpheus and Dionysos. Self-styled preachers offered followers transformative experiences that mainstream practice could not provide. Their rites were shrouded in secrecy and remain little understood today, but one of the most intriguing sources of information are the so-called Orphic tablets, such as this one. Named by modern scholars after the mythical poet Orpheus, these are inscriptions written on thin sheets of gold. They were deposited in graves, and usually bear a short text proclaiming the deceased’s special status and providing guidance for his or her journey into the Underworld. On this example, the text takes the form of a dialogue between the dead initiate and a spring in the Underworld:

(Initiate): I am parched with thirst and perishing!
(Spring): Then come drink of me, the Ever-Flowing Spring. On the right there is a bright cypress. Who are you? Where are you from?
(Initiate): I am the son of Earth and Starry Heaven. But my race is heavenly.
(Translation by Roy Kotansky (2017)).
Hear this recited in the original ancient Greek

Armed with this privileged information as to where to go in the Underworld and what to say, the deceased could feel secure in the face of death. Although the tablets like this have been found across a wide area—in Sicily and southern Italy, northern Greece, the Peloponnese, and Crete—they are exceedingly rare. Their owners were a select few, who subscribed to beliefs that would have appeared esoteric and eclectic to their contemporaries.

Passports to a Better Afterlife:
Explore three inscribed gold tablets, intended to accompany the dead on their journey to the Underworld.

As featured in the exhibition Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife

- 1975

Lenore Barozzi (Chicago, Illinois), donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1975.

Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife (October 31, 2018 to March 18, 2019)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa (Malibu), October 31, 2018 to March 18, 2019

Frel, Jiří. Recent Acquisitions of Antiquities: The J. Paul Getty Museum. June 1 - September 3, 1976. Exhibition brochure. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1976), p. 9, no. 78.

Breslin, Joseph. A Greek Prayer: the translation and account of a short burial prayer engraved by an ancient people on a tiny sheet of gold and found among ashes in a cinerary urn. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1977).

Merkelbach, R. "Ein neues 'Orphisches' Goldblaettchen," Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 25 (1977), p. 276.

Pleket, H.W. and R.S. Stroud, eds. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, 27 (Alphen aan den Rijn: Sijthoff & Noordhoff, 1977), p. 58, n. 226bis.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), p. 43.

Gallavotti, C. "Il documento orfico di Hipponion e altri testi affini." Museum Criticum 13-14 (1978-1979), 357.

Janko, Richard. "Forgetfulness in the Golden Tablets of Memory." Classical Quarterly 34.1 (1984), 89-100.

Bartram, Michael. The Pre-Raphaelite Camera: Aspects of Victorian Photography (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985, 135, et seg.

Cassio, A.C. "ΠΙΕΝ nella laminetta di Hipponion." Rivista di filologia e d'istruzione classica 115 (1987), 314-316.

Velasco Lopez, M.H., Las lamella órficas. Edición y comentario. Valladolid: Memoria de Licenciatura 1990-1991, 233.

Graf, Fritz. " Dionysian and Orphic Eschatology: New Texts and Old Questions" in Masks of Dionysos, edited by T. H. Carpenter and C.A. Faraone (Cornell UP, 1993), 239-258, 239, 251, 255, 258, no. B9.

Pugliese Carratelli, G. Le lamine d'oro 'orfiche'. Milan, 1993, 49.

Bodel, John, and Stephen Tracy. Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA: A Checklist (New York: American Academy in Rome, 1997), p. 9.

Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 504.

Gavrilaki, Irini, and Yannis Tzifopoulos. "An 'Orphic-Dionysiac' Gold Epistomion from Sfakaki, near Rethymo," Bulletin de Correspondance Hellenique 122, 1 (1998), pp. 343-355, p. 348, n. 19.

Riedweg, C., "Initiation-Tod-Unterwelt: Beobachtungen zur Komunikationssituation und narrativen Technik der orphisch-bakchischen Goldblättchen." In Ansichten griechischer Rituale, edited by F. Graf. Stuttgart-Liepzig, 1998, 397.

Bernabé, A. and Jiménez san Cristóbal, A.I., Instrucciones para el Más Allá. Las laminallas órficas de oro. Madrid, 2001, 267.

Pugliese Carratelli, G. Le lamine d'oro orfiche. Istruzioni per il viaggio oltremondano degli iniziati greci. Milan, 2001, 94.

Riedweg, C., "Poésie orphique et rituel initiatique. Éléments d'un 'Discours sacré' dans les lamelles d'or." Revue de l'histoire des religions 219 (2002), , 459-481.

Pugliese Carratelli, G. Les lamelles d'or orphiques. Paris, 2003, 94.

Tortorelli Ghidini, M. Figli della Terra e del Cielo stellato. Naples, 2006, 82, 139.

Bernabé, A. and A.I. Jiménez san Cristóbal. Instructions for the Netherworld. The Orphic Gold Tablets (Brill, 2008), 199, 12 (L6), 255-256.

Edmonds, Radcliffe, G. III "The "Orphic" gold tablets: Texts and translations, with critical apparatus and tables." In The "Orphic" Gold Tablets and Greek Religion. Further Along the Path, edited by Radcliffe G. Edmonds III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p.29, cat. B9.

Graf, Fritz and Sarah Iles Johnston. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife. Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets 2nd edition (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 40, no. 29 and front cover.

Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. "The Ephesia Grammata: Logos Orphaïkos or Apolline Alexima Pharmaka?" In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 97-106 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Mazor, Ma'ayan. Gods, Heroes and Myths in Ancient Greece. Moshav Ben-Shemen: Modan Publishing House, 2014, 169, fig. 8.

Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. 2nd edition. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 557.

Jenner, E. The Gold Leaves: being an account and translation from the Ancient Greek of the so-called 'Orphic' tablets (Pokeno: Atuanui Press, 2014), 18-19, 26-27, 138.