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{{short description|legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek mythology}}{{Other uses|Orpheus (disambiguation)}}

{{Greek myth}}Orpheus ({{IPAc-en|ˈ|ɔr|f|i|ə|s|,_|ˈ|ɔr|f|juː|s}}; Ancient Greek: Ὀρφεύς, classical pronunciation: {{IPA|/or.pʰeú̯s/}}) is a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion. Some ancient Greek sources note Orpheus' Thracian origins.Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (Routledge, 2007), p. 167, while taking note of depictions in Greek art, particularly vase painting, that show Orpheus attired as a Greek, often in contrast to those in Thracian dress around him. According to Tzeztes, his home was the Odrysian city of Bisaltia.John Tzetzes. Chiliades, 1.12 line 305 The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music (the usual scene in Orpheus mosaics), his attempt to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld, and his death at the hands of those who could not hear his divine music. As an archetype of the inspired singer, Orpheus is one of the most significant figures in the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, portrayed or alluded to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting.Geoffrey Miles, Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology (Routledge, 1999), p. 54ff.For the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the so-called "Orphic" mysteries.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Corinth, 2.30.2 He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns and the Orphic Argonautica. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were regarded as oracles.


Several etymologies for the name Orpheus have been proposed. A probable suggestion is that it is derived from a hypothetical PIE root *h₃órbʰos "orphan, servant, slave" and ultimately the verb root *h₃erbʰ- "to change allegiance, status, ownership".Cf. "Ὀρφανός" in: Etymological Dictionary of Greek, ed. Robert S. P. Beekes (Ph. D. 1969). First published online October 2010. Consulted online on 03/05/2018. Cognates could include Greek ὄρφνη (órphnē) "darkness",Cobb, Noel. Archetypal Imagination, Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, p. 240. {{ISBN|0-940262-47-9}} and surely Greek ὀρφανός (orphanós) "fatherless, orphan"{{citation | title= Orpheus: A Fugue on the Polis | first1= William K. | last1= Freiert | editor-first=Dora Carlisky | editor-last= Pozzi | editor2-first= John M. |editor2-last= Wickersham | journal= Myth and the Polis | page= 46 | publisher= Cornell University Press | year = 1991 | ISBN= 0-8014-2473-9}}, from which comes English "orphan" by way of Latin.Fulgentius, a mythographer of the late 5th to early 6th century AD, gave the unlikely etymology meaning "best voice," "Oraia-phonos".Miles, Geoffrey. Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology, London: Routledge, 1999, p. 57. {{ISBN|0-415-14755-7}}


The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century BC lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton OrphÄ“n ("Orpheus famous-of-name"). He is not mentioned in Homer or Hesiod.Ibycus, Fragments 17 (Diehl); M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 3. Most ancient sources accept his historical existence; Aristotle is an exception.Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Harvard University Press (1948), p. 1.BOOK,weblink The Works of Aristotle, 1952, Clarendon Press, Oxford, XII – Fragments, Aristotle, W. D. Ross, John Alexander Smith, 80, Pindar calls Orpheus "the father of songs"Pindar, Pythian Odes, 4.4.315 weblink and identifies him as a son of the Thracian king OeagrusPindar fragment 126.9. and the Muse Calliope.Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.3.2, Argonautica 1.23, and the Orphic Hymn 24,12.File:Orpheus Thracians Met 24.97.30.jpg|thumb|right|Orpheus (left, with lyre) among the Thracians, from an Attic red-figure (krater|bell-krater]] (c. 440 BC)WEB,weblink Attributed to the Painter of London E 497: Bell-krater (24.97.30) – Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – The Metropolitan Museum of Art,, )Greeks of the Classical age venerated Orpheus as the greatest of all poets and musicians; it was said that while Hermes had invented the lyre, Orpheus had perfected it. Poets such as Simonides of Ceos said that Orpheus' music and singing could charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance,Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.3.2; Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis, 1212 and The Bacchae, 562; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11: "with his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace, allured the trees, the savage animals, and even the insensate rocks, to follow him>" and divert the course of rivers. Orpheus was one of the handful of Greek heroesOthers to brave the nekyia were Odysseus, Theseus and Heracles; Perseus also overcame Medusa in a chthonic setting. to visit the Underworld and return; his music and song even had power over Hades.Some sources credit Orpheus with further gifts to mankind: medicine, which is more usually under the auspices of Aesculapius or Apollo; writing,A single literary epitaph, attributed to the sophist Alcidamas, credits Orpheus with the invention of writing. See Ivan Mortimer Linforth, "Two Notes on the Legend of Orpheus", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 62, (1931):5–17). which is usually credited to Cadmus; and agriculture, where Orpheus assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus as giver of Demeter's knowledge to mankind. Orpheus was an augur and seer; he practiced magical arts and astrology, founded cults to Apollo and DionysusApollodorus (Pseudo Apollodorus), Library and Epitome, 1.3.2. "Orpheus also invented the mysteries of Dionysus, and having been torn in pieces by the Maenads he is buried in Pieria." and prescribed the mystery rites preserved in Orphic texts. Pindar and Apollonius of RhodesApollonius, Argonautica, passim. place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts. Orpheus had a brother named Linus, who went to Thebes and became a Theban.Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, 2.4.9, This Linus was a brother of Orpheus; he came to Thebes and became a Theban. He is claimed by Aristophanes and Horace to have taught cannibals to subsist on fruit, and to have made lions and tigers obedient to him. Horace believed, however, that Orpheus had only introduced order and civilization to savages.WEB,weblink Lives of the Necromancers, William Godwin, 1876, 44, Strabo (64 BC â€“ c. AD 24) presents Orpheus as a mortal, who lived and died in a village close to Olympus.Strabo, Geography, Book 7, Chapter 7: "At the base of Olympus is a city Dium. And it has a village near by, Pimpleia. Here lived Orpheus, the Ciconian, it is said — a wizard who at first collected money from his music, together with his soothsaying and his celebration of the orgies connected with the mystic initiatory rites, but soon afterwards thought himself worthy of still greater things and procured for himself a throng of followers and power. Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him. And near here, also, is Leibethra." "Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him." He made money as a musician and "wizard" â€“ Strabo uses agurteúonta (αγυρτεύοντα),Gregory Nagy, Archaic Period (Greek Literature, Volume 2), {{ISBN|0-8153-3683-7}}, p. 46. also used by Sophocles in Oedipus Tyrannus to characterize Teiresias as a trickster with an excessive desire for possessions. AgúrtÄ“s (αγύρτης) most often meant charlatanIndex in Eustathii commentarios in Homeri Iliadem et Odysseam by Matthaeus Devarius, p. 8. and always had a negative connotation. Pausanias writes of an unnamed Egyptian who considered Orpheus a mágeuse (μάγευσε), i. e., magician.Pausanias, The Description of Greece, 6.20.18: "A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon."{{Primary source inline|date=January 2016}}


Early life

(File:Life of Orpheus Greek Mythology.svg|thumb|Important sites in the life and travels of Orpheus)According to ApollodorusSon of Oeagrus or Apollo and Calliope: Apollodorus 1.3.1. and a fragment of Pindar,Pindar, frag. 126, line 9, noted in Kerényi 1959: 280. Orpheus' father was Oeagrus, a Thracian king, or, according to another version of the story, the god Apollo. His mother was (1) the muse Calliope, (2) her sister PolymniaScholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.23 with Asclepiades as the authority, (3) a daughter of Pierus,In Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 9.30.4, the author claimed that "... There are many untruths believed by the Greeks, one of which is that Orpheus was a son of the Muse Calliope, and not of the daughter of Pierus." son of Makednos or (4) lastly of Menippe, daughter of ThamyrisTzetzes, Chiliades 1.12 line 306. His birthplace and place of residence was in PimpleiaWilliam Keith Guthrie and L. Alderlink, Orpheus and Greek Religion (Mythos Books), 1993, {{ISBN|0-691-02499-5}}, p. 61 f.: "[…] is a city Dion. Near it is a village called Pimpleia. It was there they say that Orpheus the Kikonian lived."Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Mythos Books), 1991, {{ISBN|0-691-01514-7}}, p. 469: "[…] near the city of Dium is a village called Pimpleia where Orpheus lived." close to the Olympus. Strabo mentions that he lived in Pimpleia. According to the epic poem Argonautica, Pimpleia was the location of Oeagrus' and Calliope's wedding.The Argonautica, book I (ll. 23–34), "First then let us name Orpheus whom once Calliope bare, it is said, wedded to Thracian Oeagrus, near the Pimpleian height." While living with his mother and her eight beautiful sisters in Parnassus, he met Apollo, who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo, as the god of music, gave Orpheus a golden lyre and taught him to play it.Hoopes And Evslin, The Greek Gods, {{ISBN|0-590-44110-8}}, {{ISBN|0-590-44110-8}}, 1995, p. 77: "His father was a Thracian king; his mother the muse Calliope. For a while he lived on Parnassus with his mother and his eight beautiful aunts and there met Apollo who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo was taken with Orpheus, gave him his little golden lyre and taught him to play. And his mother taught him to make verses for singing." Orpheus' mother taught him to make verses for singing. He is also said to have studied in Egypt.Diodorus Siculus, 4.25.2–4.Orpheus is said to have established the worship of Hecate in Aegina.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Corinth, 2.30.1[2]: "Of the gods, the Aeginetans worship most Hecate, in whose honor every year they celebrate mystic rites which, they say, Orpheus the Thracian established among them. Within the enclosure is a temple; its wooden image is the work of Myron, and it has one face and one body. It was Alcamenes, in my opinion, who first made three images of Hecate attached to one another, a figure called by the Athenians Epipurgidia (on the Tower); it stands beside the temple of the Wingless Victory." In Laconia Orpheus is said to have brought the worship of Demeter ChthoniaPausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.14.1,[5]: "[…] but the wooden image of Thetis is guarded in secret. The cult of Demeter Chthonia (of the Lower World) the Lacedaemonians say was handed on to them by Orpheus, but in my opinion it was because of the sanctuary in Hermione that the Lacedaemonians also began to worship Demeter Chthonia. The Spartans have also a sanctuary of Serapis, the newest sanctuary in the city, and one of Zeus surnamed Olympian." and that of the Kóres Sōteíras (Greek Κόρες Σωτείρας "Saviour Maidens").{{Clarify|date=January 2010}}Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.13.1: "Opposite the Olympian Aphrodite the Lacedaemonians have a temple of the Saviour Maid. Some say that it was made by Orpheus the Thracian, others by Abairis when he had come from the Hyperboreans." Also in Taygetus a wooden image of Orpheus was said to have been kept by Pelasgians in the sanctuary of the Eleusinian Demeter.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.20.1,[5]: "Between Taletum and Euoras is a place they name Therae, where they say Leto from the Peaks of Taygetus […] is a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Eleusinian. Here according to the Lacedaemonian story Heracles was hidden by Asclepius while he was being healed of a wound. In the sanctuary is a wooden image of Orpheus, a work, they say, of Pelasgians."According to Diodorus Siculus, Musaeus of Athens was the son of Orpheus.Diodorus Siculus, 4.25.1–2.

Travelling as an Argonaut

The Argonautica () is a Greek epic poem written by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC. Orpheus took part in this adventure and used his skills to aid his companions. Chiron told Jason that without the aid of Orpheus, the Argonauts would never be able to pass the Sirens—the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus in Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. The Sirens lived on three small, rocky islands called Sirenum scopuli and sang beautiful songs that enticed sailors to come to them, which resulted in the crashing of their ships into the islands. When Orpheus heard their voices, he drew his lyre and played music that was louder and more beautiful, drowning out the Sirens' bewitching songs. According to 3rd century BC Hellenistic elegiac poet Phanocles, Orpheus loved the young Argonaut Calais, "the son of Boreas, with all his heart, and went often in shaded groves still singing of his desire, nor was his heart at rest. But always, sleepless cares wasted his spirits as he looked at fresh Calais."BOOK, Katherine Crawford, The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance,weblink 2010, Cambridge University Press, 978-0-521-76989-1, 28, BOOK, John Block Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages,weblink 2000-05-01, Syracuse University Press, 978-0-8156-2825-5, 9,

Death of Eurydice

File:Orfeu-atenas.jpg|upright|thumb|Orpheus with the lyre and surrounded by beasts (Byzantine & Christian MuseumByzantine & Christian Museum{{See also|Orpheus and Eurydice}}The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (sometimes referred to as Euridice and also known as Argiope). While walking among her people, the Cicones, in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice was set upon by a satyr. In her efforts to escape the satyr, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld. His music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following, and, in his anxiety, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever.The story in this form belongs to the time of Virgil, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus (by the time of Virgil's Georgics, the myth has Aristaeus chasing Eurydice when she was bitten by a serpent) and the tragic outcome.M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics, State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 9. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus' visit to the underworld in a more negative light; according to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium,Symposium 179d. the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. In fact, Plato's representation of Orpheus is that of a coward, as instead of choosing to die in order to be with the one he loved, he instead mocked the gods by trying to go to Hades to bring her back alive. Since his love was not "true"—he did not want to die for love—he was actually punished by the gods, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld, and then by being killed by women. In Ovid's account, however, Eurydice's death by a snake bite is incurred while she was dancing with naiads on her wedding day.Virgil wrote in his poem that Dryads wept from Epirus and Hebrus up to the land of the Getae (north east Danube valley) and even describes him wandering into Hyperborea and Tanais (ancient Greek city in the Don river delta)WEB,weblink The Georgics of Virgil: Fourth Book,, 11 July 2017, due to his grief.The story of Eurydice may actually be a late addition to the Orpheus myths. In particular, the name Eurudike ("she whose justice extends widely") recalls cult-titles attached to Persephone. According to the theories of poet Robert Graves, the myth may have been derived from another Orpheus legend, in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books Ltd., London (1955), Volume 1, Chapter 28, "Orpheus", p. 115.The myth theme of not looking back, an essential precaution in Jason's raising of chthonic Brimo Hekate under Medea's guidance,Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, book III: "Let no footfall or barking of dogs cause you to turn around, lest you ruin everything", Medea warns Jason; after the dread rite, "The son of Aison was seized by fear, but even so he did not turn round..." (Richard Hunter, translator). is reflected in the Biblical story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom. More directly, the story of Orpheus is similar to the ancient Greek tales of Persephone captured by Hades and similar stories of Adonis captive in the underworld. However, the developed form of the Orpheus myth was entwined with the Orphic mystery cults and, later in Rome, with the development of Mithraism and the cult of Sol Invictus.


File:Head of Orpheus.jpg|upright|thumb|right|Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre (1865) by Gustave MoreauGustave MoreauFile:Kantharos63.9.jpg|thumb|The Death of Orpheus, detail from a silver kantharos, 420-410 BC, part of the Vassil Bojkov collection, Sofia, 263x263pxAccording to a Late Antique summary of Aeschylus' lost play Bassarids, Orpheus, towards the end of his life, disdained the worship of all gods except the sun, whom he called Apollo. One early morning he went to the oracle of Dionysus at Mount PangaionOrpheus and Greek Religion by William Keith Guthrie and L. Alderlink, {{ISBN|0-691-02499-5}}, p. 32 to salute his god at dawn, but was ripped to shreds by Thracian Maenads for not honoring his previous patron (Dionysus) and buried in Pieria.Wilson, N., Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, Routledge, 2013, {{ISBN|113678800X}}, p. 702: "His grave and cult belong not to Thrace but to Pierian Macedonia, northeast of Mount Olympus, a region that the Thracians had once inhabited Here his death is analogous with that of Pentheus, who was also torn to pieces by Maenads; and it has been speculated that the Orphic mystery cult regarded Orpheus as a parallel figure to or even an incarnation of Dionysus.Classical Mythology, p. 279, Mark P. O. Morford, Robert J. Lenardon. Both made similar journeys into Hades, and Dionysus Zagreus suffered an identical death.Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, volume 88, p. 211 Pausanias writes that Orpheus was buried in Dion and that he met his death there.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1. The Macedonians who dwell in the district below Mount Pieria and the city of Dium say that it was here that Orpheus met his end at the hands of the women. Going from Dium along the road to the mountain, and advancing twenty stades, you come to a pillar on the right surmounted by a stone urn, which according to the natives contains the bones of Orpheus. He writes that the river Helicon sank underground when the women that killed Orpheus tried to wash off their blood-stained hands in its waters.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1. There is also a river called Helicon. After a course of seventy-five stades the stream hereupon disappears under the earth. After a gap of about twenty-two stades the water rises again, and under the name of Baphyra instead of Helicon flows into the sea as a navigable river. The people of Dium say that at first this river flowed on land throughout its course. But, they go on to say, the women who killed Orpheus wished to wash off in it the blood-stains, and thereat the river sank underground, so as not to lend its waters to cleanse manslaughterOvid recounts that Orpheus ... Feeling spurned by Orpheus for taking only male lovers, the Ciconian women, followers of Dionysus,BOOK, Patricia Jane Johnson, Ovid Before Exile: Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses,weblink 2008, University of Wisconsin Press, 978-0-299-22400-4, 103, "by the Ciconian women." first threw sticks and stones at him as he played, but his music was so beautiful even the rocks and branches refused to hit him. Enraged, the women tore him to pieces during the frenzy of their Bacchic orgies.BOOK, Ovid, trans. A. S. Kline,weblink Ovid: The Metamorphoses, 2000, Book XI. In Albrecht Dürer's drawing of Orpheus' death, based on an original, now lost, by Andrea Mantegna, a ribbon high in the tree above him is lettered Orfeus der erst puseran ("Orpheus, the first pederast").BOOK, Heinrich Wölfflin, Drawings of Albrecht Dürer,weblink 2013, Courier Dover Publications, 978-0-486-14090-2, 24–25, File:Dürer - Mort d'Orphée (1494).jpg|thumb|left|Death of Orpheus (1494) by Dürer ]]His head and lyre, still singing mournful songs, floated down the River Hebrus into the sea, after which the winds and waves carried them to the island of Lesbos,Carlos Parada "His head fell into the sea and was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos where the Lesbians buried it, and for having done this the Lesbians have the reputation of being skilled in music." at the city of Methymna; there, the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in his honour near Antissa;Recently a cave was identified as the oracle of Orpheus nearby the modern village of Antissa; see Harissis H. V. et al. "The Spelios of Antissa; The oracle of Orpheus in Lesvos" Archaiologia kai Technes 2002; 83:68–73 (article in Greek with English abstract) there his oracle prophesied, until it was silenced by Apollo.Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 4.14. In addition to the people of Lesbos, Greeks from Ionia and Aetolia consulted the oracle, and his reputation spread as far as Babylon.WEB,weblink Lives of the Necromancers, William Godwin, 1876, 46,
(File:Orpheus' oracle.jpg|thumb|Cave of Orpheus' oracle in Antissa, Lesbos)Orpheus' lyre was carried to heaven by the Muses, and was placed among the stars. The Muses also gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at LeibethraThe Writing of Orpheus: Greek Myth in Cultural Context by Marcele Detienne, {{ISBN|0-8018-6954-4}}, p. 161 below Mount Olympus, where the nightingales sang over his grave. After the river Sys floodedPausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1 [11] Immediately when night came the god sent heavy rain, and the river Sys (Boar), one of the torrents about Olympus, on this occasion threw down the walls of Libethra, overturning sanctuaries of gods and houses of men, and drowning the inhabitants and all the animals in the city. When Libethra was now a city of ruin, the Macedonians in Dium, according to my friend of Larisa, carried the bones of Orpheus to their own country. Leibethra, the Macedonians took his bones to Dion. Orpheus' soul returned to the underworld, to the fields of the Blessed, where he was reunited at last with his beloved Eurydice. Another legend places his tomb at Dion, near Pydna in Macedon. In another version of the myth, Orpheus travels to Aornum in Thesprotia, Epirus to an old oracle for the dead. In the end Orpheus commits suicide from his grief unable to find Eurydice.Others have said that his wife died before him, and that for her sake he came to Aornum in Thesprotis, where of old was an oracle of the dead. He thought, they say, that the soul of Eurydice followed him, but turning round he lost her, and committed suicide for grief. The Thracians say that such nightingales as nest on the grave of Orpheus sing more sweetly and louder than others.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1.Another account relates that he was struck with lightning by Zeus for having lied about the stories and the mysteries of the gods.

Orphic poems and rites

File:Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus.jpg|thumb|upright|Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus (1900) by John William WaterhouseJohn William WaterhouseA number of Greek religious poems in hexameters were attributed to Orpheus, as they were to similar miracle-working figures, like Bakis, Musaeus, Abaris, Aristeas, Epimenides, and the Sibyl. Of this vast literature, only two works survived whole: the Orphic Hymns, a set of 87 poems, possibly composed at some point in the second or third century, and the epic poem Argonautica, composed somewhere between the fourth and sixth centuries. Earlier Orphic literature, which may date back as far as the sixth century BC, survives only in papyrus fragments or in quotations. Some of the earliest fragments may have been composed by Onomacritus.Freeman, Kathleen. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Harvard University Press (1948), p. 1.File:Charles François Jalabert - Nymphs Listening to the Songs of Orpheus - Walters 3737.jpg|left|thumb|Nymphs Listening to the Songs of Orpheus (1853) by Charles JalabertCharles JalabertIn addition to serving as a storehouse of mythological data along the lines of Hesiod's Theogony, Orphic poetry was recited in mystery-rites and purification rituals. Plato in particular tells of a class of vagrant beggar-priests who would go about offering purifications to the rich, a clatter of books by Orpheus and Musaeus in tow.Plato. The Republic 364c–d. Those who were especially devoted to these rituals and poems often practiced vegetarianism and abstention from sex, and refrained from eating eggs and beans — which came to be known as the Orphikos bios, or "Orphic way of life".Moore, p. 56: "the use of eggs and beans was forbidden, for these articles were associated with the worship of the dead".The Derveni papyrus, found in Derveni, Macedonia (Greece) in 1962, contains a philosophical treatise that is an allegorical commentary on an Orphic poem in hexameters, a theogony concerning the birth of the gods, produced in the circle of the philosopher Anaxagoras, written in the second half of the fifth century BC. Fragments of the poem are quoted making it "the most important new piece of evidence about Greek philosophy and religion to come to light since the Renaissance".JOURNAL,weblink Janko, Richard, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2006, K., Tsantsanoglou, G.M., Parássoglou, T., Kouremenos, The Derveni Papyrus, Florence: Olschki, Studi e testi per il 'Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini', 13, The papyrus dates to around 340 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon, making it Europe's oldest surviving manuscript.The historian William Mitford wrote in 1784 that the very earliest form of a higher and more cohesive ancient Greek religion was manifest in the Orphic poems.Mitford, p. 89: "But the very early inhabitants of Greece had a religion far less degenerated from original purity. To this curious and interesting fact, abundant testimonies remain. They occur in those poems, of uncertain origin and uncertain date, but unquestionably of great antiquity, which are called the poems of Orpheus or rather the Orphic poems [Note: Particularly in the Hymn to Jupiter, quoted by Aristotle in the seventh chapter of his Treatise on the World]; and they are found scattered among the writings of the philosophers and historians." The idea of a religion "degenerated from original purity" expressed an Enlightenment idealisation of an assumed primitive state that is one connotation of "primitivism" in the history of ideas. W. K. C. Guthrie wrote that Orpheus was the founder of mystery religions and the first to reveal to men the meanings of the initiation rites.Guthrie, pp. 17–18. "As founder of mystery-religions, Orpheus was first to reveal to men the meaning of the rites of initiation (teletai). We read of this in both Plato and Aristophanes (Aristophanes, Frogs, 1032; Plato, Republic, 364e, a passage which suggests that literary authority was made to take the responsibility for the rites)". Guthrie goes on to write about "This less worthy but certainly popular side of Orphism is represented for us again by the charms or incantations of Orpheus which we may also read of as early as the fifth century. Our authority is Euripides. We have already noticed the 'charm on the Thracian tablets' in the Alcestis and in Cyclops one of the lazy and frightened Satyrs, unwilling to help Odysseus in the task of driving the burning stake into the single eye of the giant, exclaims: 'But I know a spell of Orpheus, a fine one, which will make the brand step up of its own accord to burn this one-eyed son of Earth' (Euripides, Cyclops 646 = Kern, test. 83)."

Post-Classical interpretations

Classical music

The Orpheus motif has permeated Western culture and has been used as a theme in all art forms. Early examples include the Breton lai Sir Orfeo from the early 13th century and musical interpretations like Jacapo Peri's Euridice (1600, though titled with his wife's name, the libretto is based entirely upon books X and XI of Ovid's Metamorphoses and therefore Orpheus' viewpoint is predominant). Subsequent operatic interpretations include Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607), Luigi Rossi's L'Orfeo (1647), Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (1762), Joseph Haydn's last opera L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (1791), Franz Liszt's symphonic poem Orpheus (1854), Igor Stravinsky's ballet Orpheus (1948) and two operas by Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus (1973–1984) and The Corridor (2009). The Bulgarian Rousse State Opera commissioned and performed Orpheus: A Masque by John Robertson (2015).Rousse State Opera. "Световна премиера на операта „Орфей” от канадския композитор Джон Робъртсън в МФ „Сцена край реката”-Русе" ("World Premiere of the opera "Orpheus" by Canadian composer John Robertson"). Retrieved 22 February 2016 {{Bg icon}}.


Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (1922) are based on the Orpheus myth. Poul Anderson's Hugo Award-winning novelette "Goat Song", published in 1972, is a retelling of the story of Orpheus in a science fiction setting. Some feminist interpretations of the myth give Eurydice greater weight. Margaret Atwood's Orpheus and Eurydice Cycle (1976–86) deals with the myth, and gives Eurydice a more prominent voice. Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice likewise presents the story of Orpheus' descent to the underworld from Eurydice's perspective. Ruhl removes Orpheus from the center of the story by pairing their romantic love with the paternal love of Eurydice's dead father.NEWS,weblink Charles, Isherwood, New York Times, Charles Isherwood, 2007-06-19, The Power of Memory to Triumph Over Death, David Almond's 2014 novel, A Song for Ella Grey, was inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2015weblink The 2014 novel Orfeo by Richard Powers is based on Orpheus.{{cn|date=April 2018}}{{clarify|date=April 2018}}Dino Buzzati adapted the Orpheus motif in his graphic novel Poem Strip (1969). Neil Gaiman depicts his version of Orpheus in The Sandman comics series (1989–2015). Gaiman's Orpheus is the son of Oneiros (the Dream Lord Morpheus) and the muse Calliope.Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman #50.

Film and stage

File:Muerte de OrfeoGarciaVega.jpg|thumb|upright|Death of Orpheus by Mexican artist Antonio García VegaAntonio García VegaVinicius de Moraes' play Orfeu da Conceição (1956), later adapted by Marcel Camus in the 1959 film Black Orpheus, tells the story in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy â€“ The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1959) â€“ was filmed over thirty years, and is based in many ways on the story. Philip Glass adapted the second film into the chamber opera Orphée (1991), part of an homage triptych to Cocteau. Nikos Nikolaidis' 1975 film Evrydiki BA 2O37 is an innovative perspective on the classic Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Anaïs Mitchell's 2010 folk opera musical Hadestown retells the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice with a soundtrack inspired by American blues and jazz, portraying Hades as the brutal work-boss of an underground mining city.

Reception of the reception

Because of the pervasiveness of the Orpheus myth, many interpretations are in conversation with previous interpretations as well: Pina Bausch's dance-opera Orpheus und Euridike displays original choreography set to Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Baz Luhrmann, in DVD commentaries for his 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, characterizes the film as, in part, a tale of an Orphic hero (in this case a songwriter) who embarks upon a visit to the underworld (in this case the demi-monde around Paris' Montmartre) in search of his fortune and ultimately to attempt the rescue of his doomed love.QUOTE, October 2017, The film adapts a widely known piece from Jacques Offenbach's comedic operetta Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), identified with the once-popular can-can music hall dance. Offenbach's operatic work had itself parodied the classical tale of Orpheus' attempted rescue of Eurydice from Pluto (Hades). Gavin Bryars' music for Édouard Lock's full length ballet Dido and Orfeo (2011) reworks music from the operas Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) and Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck) for a small ensemble of saxophone, viola, cello and piano.{{citation needed|date=October 2017}} In 2019, Sara Bareilles released her sixth studio album Amidst the Chaos which features a song titled "Orpheus".

See also




  • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke I, iii, 2; ix, 16 & 25;
  • Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica I, 23–34; IV, 891–909.
  • Bernabé, Albertus (ed.), Orphicorum et Orphicis similium testimonia et fragmenta. Poetae Epici Graeci. Pars II. Fasc. 1. Bibliotheca Teubneriana, München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2004. {{ISBN|3-598-71707-5}}. review of this book
  • Guthrie, William Keith Chambers, Orpheus and Greek Religion: a Study of the Orphic Movement, 1935.
  • BOOK, Kerenyi, Karl, Károly Kerényi, The Heroes of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, New York/London, 1959,
  • Mitford, William, The History of Greece, 1784. Cf. v.1, Chapter II, Religion of the Early Greeks.
  • Moore, Clifford H., Religious Thought of the Greeks, 1916. Kessinger Publishing (April 2003). {{ISBN|978-0-7661-5130-7}}
  • Ossoli, Margaret Fuller, Orpheus, a sonnet about his trip to the underworld.
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 1–105; XI, 1–66;
  • Christoph Riedweg, "Orfeo", in: S. Settis (a cura di), I Greci: Storia Cultura Arte Società, volume II, 1, Turin 1996, 1251–1280.
  • Christoph Riedweg, "Orpheus oder die Magie der musiké. Antike Variationen eines einflussreichen Mythos", in: Th. Fuhrer / P. Michel / P. Stotz (Hgg.), Geschichten und ihre Geschichte, Basel 2004, 37–66.
  • Rohde, Erwin, Psyche, 1925. cf. Chapter 10, The Orphics.
  • BOOK, Segal, Charles, Orpheus : The Myth of the Poet, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989, 0-8018-3708-1,
  • Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Orpheus"
  • Taylor, Thomas [translator], The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, 1896.
  • West, Martin L., The Orphic Poems, 1983. There is a sub-thesis in this work that early Greek religion was heavily influenced by Central Asian shamanistic practices. One major point of contact was the ancient Crimean city of Olbia.
  • Wise, R. Todd, A Neocomparative Examination of the Orpheus Myth As Found in the Native American and European Traditions, 1998. UMI. The thesis explores Orpheus as a single mythic structure present in traditions that extend from antiquity to contemporary times and across cultural contexts.
  • Wroe, Ann, Orpheus: The Song of Life, The Overlook Press, New York, 2012.

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