Orpheus

Orpheus

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Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

 in ancient Greek religion and myth
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music; his attempt to retrieve his wife
Eurydice
Eurydice in Greek mythology, was an oak nymph or one of the daughters of Apollo . She was the wife of Orpheus, who loved her dearly; on their wedding day, he played joyful songs as his bride danced through the meadow. One day, a satyr saw and pursued Eurydice, who stepped on a venomous snake,...

 from the underworld
Greek underworld
The Greek underworld was made up of various realms believed to lie beneath the earth or at its farthest reaches.This includes:* The great pit of Tartarus, originally the exclusive prison of the old Titan gods, it later came to be the dungeon home of damned souls.* The land of the dead ruled by the...

; 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
Reception theory
Reception theory is a version of reader response literary theory that emphasizes the reader's reception of a literary text. It is more generally called audience reception in the analysis of communications models. In literary studies, reception theory originated from the work of Hans-Robert Jauss in...

 of classical mythology
Classical mythology
Classical mythology or Greco-Roman mythology is the cultural reception of myths from the ancient Greeks and Romans. Along with philosophy and political thought, mythology represents one of the major survivals of classical antiquity throughout later Western culture.Classical mythology has provided...

 in Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

, portrayed or alluded
Allusion
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. M. H...

 to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, opera, and painting.

To the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the so-called "Orphic" mysteries
Orphism (religion)
Orphism is the name given to a set of religious beliefs and practices in the ancient Greek and the Hellenistic world, as well as by the Thracians, associated with literature ascribed to the mythical poet Orpheus, who descended into Hades and returned...

. He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns, a collection of which survives. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were regarded as oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

s. Ancient Greek sources note Orpheus's Thracian
Thracians
The ancient Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting areas including Thrace in Southeastern Europe. They spoke the Thracian language – a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family...

 origins. Archaeologists have interpreted finds within ancient Thrace
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 as evidence of Orphic cult.

Background



The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century BC lyric poet Ibycus
Ibycus
Ibycus , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, a citizen of Rhegium in Magna Graecia, probably active at Samos during the reign of the tyrant Polycrates and numbered by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria in the canonical list of nine lyric poets...

: onomaklyton Orphēn ("Orpheus famous of name"). He is not mentioned in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 or Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

. Most ancient sources accept his historical existence; Aristotle is an exception.

Pindar
Pindar
Pindar , was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich...

 calls Orpheus "the father of songs" and identifies him as a son of the Thracian king Oeagrus
Oeagrus
In Greek mythology, Oeagrus , son of Pierus or Tharops, was a king of Thrace. He and the muse Calliope were the parents of Orpheus and Linus. He was also sometimes called the father of Marsyas. There are various versions as to where Oeagrus's domain was actually situated. In one version, he ruled...

 and the Muse
Muse
The Muses in Greek mythology, poetry, and literature, are the goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge, related orally for centuries in the ancient culture, that was contained in poetic lyrics and myths...

 Calliope
Calliope
In Greek mythology, Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, and is now best known as Homer's muse, the inspiration for the Odyssey and the Iliad....

: but as Karl Kerenyi
Karl Kerényi
Károly Kerényi was a Hungarian scholar in classical philology, one of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology.- Hungary 1897–1943 :...

 observes, "in the popular mind he was more closely linked to the community of his disciples and adherents than with any particular race or family".

Greeks of the Classical age
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 venerated Orpheus as the greatest of all poets and musicians: it was said that while Hermes
Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

 had invented the lyre
Lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

, Orpheus perfected it. Poets such as Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos was a Greek lyric poet, born at Ioulis on Kea. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets, along with Bacchylides and Pindar...

 said that Orpheus' music and singing could charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; his music and song even had power over Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

.

Some sources credit Orpheus with further gifts to mankind: medicine
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

, which is more usually under the aegis of Aesculapius; writing
Writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

, which is usually credited to Cadmus
Cadmus
Cadmus or Kadmos , in Greek mythology was a Phoenician prince, the son of king Agenor and queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. He was originally sent by his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to Tyre after she was abducted from the shores...

 and agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

, where Orpheus assumes the Eleusinian
Eleusinian Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance...

 role of Triptolemus
Triptolemus
Buzyges redirects here. For the genus of grass skipper butterflies, see Buzyges .Triptolemus , in Greek mythology always connected with Demeter of the Eleusinian Mysteries, might be accounted the son of King Celeus of Eleusis in Attica, or, according to the Pseudo-Apollodorus , the son of Gaia and...

, giver of Demeter's knowledge to mankind. Orpheus was an augur
Augur
The augur was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of...

 and seer; practiced magical arts and astrology
Astrology
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

, founded cults to Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 and Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 and prescribed the mystery rites preserved in Orphic texts. In addition, Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes
Apollonius of Rhodes
Apollonius Rhodius, also known as Apollonius of Rhodes , early 3rd century BCE – after 246 BCE, was a poet, and a librarian at the Library of Alexandria...

 place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts. Orpheus had a brother named Linus
Linus (mythology)
In Greek mythology Linus refers to the musical son of Oeagrus, nominally Apollo, and the Muse Calliope. As the son of Apollo and a Muse, either Calliope or Terpsichore, he is considered the inventor of melody and rhythm. Linus taught music to his brother Orpheus and then to Heracles. Linus went...

 who went to Thebes
Ancient Thebes (Boeotia)
See Thebes, Greece for the modern city built on the ancient ruins.Ancient Thebes was a Boeotian city-state , situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain...

 and became a Theban.

Mythology



Early life


According to Apollodorus
Bibliotheca (Pseudo-Apollodorus)
The Bibliotheca , in three books, provides a comprehensive summary of traditional Greek mythology and heroic legends, "the most valuable mythographical work that has come down from ancient times," Aubrey Diller observed, whose "stultifying purpose" was neatly expressed in the epigram noted by...

 and a fragment of Pindar, Orpheus's father was Oeagrus
Oeagrus
In Greek mythology, Oeagrus , son of Pierus or Tharops, was a king of Thrace. He and the muse Calliope were the parents of Orpheus and Linus. He was also sometimes called the father of Marsyas. There are various versions as to where Oeagrus's domain was actually situated. In one version, he ruled...

, a Thracian
Thrace
Thrace is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. As a geographical concept, Thrace designates a region bounded by the Balkan Mountains on the north, Rhodope Mountains and the Aegean Sea on the south, and by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara on the east...

 king; or, according to another version of the story, the god Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

. His mother was the muse
Muse
The Muses in Greek mythology, poetry, and literature, are the goddesses who inspire the creation of literature and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge, related orally for centuries in the ancient culture, that was contained in poetic lyrics and myths...

 Calliope
Calliope
In Greek mythology, Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, and is now best known as Homer's muse, the inspiration for the Odyssey and the Iliad....

; or, a daughter of Pierus
Pierus
Pierus , in Greek mythology, is a name attributed to two individuals.*Pierus, the eponym of Pieria, son of Makednos and father by Antiope or Euippe of the of Pierides, nine maidens who wanted to outshine the Muses...

, son of Makednos
Makednos
Makedon, also Macedon or Makednos , was the eponymous mythological ancestor of the ancient Macedonians according to various ancient Greek fragmentary narratives...

. His birthplace and place of residence was in Pimpleia
Pimpleia
Pimpleia was a city in Pieria in Ancient Greece, located near Dion and Mount Olympus. Pimpleia is described as a "κώμη" of Dion by Strabo. The location of Pimpleia is possibly to be identified with the modern village of Agia Paraskevi near Litochoron.It was renowned as the birthplace and early...

, Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

. In Argonautica the location of Oeagrus and Calliope's wedding is close to Pimpleia
Pimpleia
Pimpleia was a city in Pieria in Ancient Greece, located near Dion and Mount Olympus. Pimpleia is described as a "κώμη" of Dion by Strabo. The location of Pimpleia is possibly to be identified with the modern village of Agia Paraskevi near Litochoron.It was renowned as the birthplace and early...

, near Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

. While living with his mother and her eight beautiful sisters in Parnassus, he met Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

, who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo became fond of Orpheus and gave him a little golden lyre
Lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

 and taught him to play it. Orpheus's mother taught him to make verses for singing. Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 mentions that he lived in Pimpleia. He is also said to have studied in Egypt.

Orpheus is said to have established the worship of Hecate
Hecate
Hecate or Hekate is a chthonic Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and crossroads.She is attested in poetry as early as Hesiod's Theogony...

 in Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

. In Laconia
Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

 Orpheus is said to have brought the worship of Demeter Chthonia and that of the Kores Sōteiras (Greek,Κόρες Σωτείρας) savior maid. Also in Taygetus
Taygetus
Mount Taygetus, Taugetus, or Taigetus is a mountain range in the Peloponnese peninsula in Southern Greece. The name is one of the oldest recorded in Europe, appearing in the Odyssey. In classical mythology, it was associated with the nymph Taygete...

 a wooden image of Orpheus was said to have been kept by Pelasgians
Pelasgians
The name Pelasgians was used by some ancient Greek writers to refer to populations that were either the ancestors of the Greeks or who preceded the Greeks in Greece, "a hold-all term for any ancient, primitive and presumably indigenous people in the Greek world." In general, "Pelasgian" has come...

 in the sanctuary of the Eleusinian Demeter.

Traveling as an Argonaut



The Argonautica is a Greek
Greek literature
Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.-Ancient Greek literature :...

 epic poem written by Apollonius Rhodius
Apollonius of Rhodes
Apollonius Rhodius, also known as Apollonius of Rhodes , early 3rd century BCE – after 246 BCE, was a poet, and a librarian at the Library of Alexandria...

 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 Siren
Siren
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were three dangerous mermaid like creatures, portrayed as seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on an island called Sirenum scopuli...

s—the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 in Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's epic poem the Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

. The Sirens lived on three small, rocky islands called Sirenum scopuli
Sirenum scopuli
According to the Roman poets Virgil and Ovid, the Sirenum scopuli were three small rocky islands where the Sirens of Greek mythology lived and lured sailors to their deaths...

 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
Lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

 and played music that was louder and more beautiful, drowning out the Sirens' bewitching songs.

Death of Eurydice


The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice
Eurydice
Eurydice in Greek mythology, was an oak nymph or one of the daughters of Apollo . She was the wife of Orpheus, who loved her dearly; on their wedding day, he played joyful songs as his bride danced through the meadow. One day, a satyr saw and pursued Eurydice, who stepped on a venomous snake,...

 (sometimes referred to as Euridice and also known as Agricope). While walking among her people, the Cicones, in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice was set upon by a satyr
Satyr
In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing....

. In her efforts to escape the satyr, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and she 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 nymph
Nymph
A nymph in Greek mythology is a female minor nature deity typically associated with a particular location or landform. Different from gods, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing;...

s and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus travelled to the underworld
Underworld
The Underworld is a region which is thought to be under the surface of the earth in some religions and in mythologies. It could be a place where the souls of the recently departed go, and in some traditions it is identified with Hell or the realm of death...

 and by his music softened the hearts of Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

 and Persephone
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

 (he was the only person ever to do so), 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
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus
Aristaeus
A minor god in Greek mythology, which we read largely through Athenian writers, Aristaeus or Aristaios , "ever close follower of the flocks", was the culture hero credited with the discovery of many useful arts, including bee-keeping; he was the son of Apollo and the huntress Cyrene...

 (by the time of Virgil's Georgics
Georgics
The Georgics is a poem in four books, likely published in 29 BC. It is the second major work by the Latin poet Virgil, following his Eclogues and preceding the Aeneid. It is a poem that draws on many prior sources and influenced many later authors from antiquity to the present...

, the myth has Aristaeus chasing Eurydice when she was bitten by a serpent) and the tragic outcome. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus's visit to the underworld in a more negative light; according to Phaedrus in Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's Symposium
Symposium (Plato)
The Symposium is a philosophical text by Plato dated c. 385–380 BCE. It concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love....

, the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 says that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus but by dancing with naiad
Naiad
In Greek mythology, the Naiads or Naiades were a type of nymph who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, and brooks....

s on her wedding day. 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 and get 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.

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
Persephone
In Greek mythology, Persephone , also called Kore , is the daughter of Zeus and the harvest-goddess Demeter, and queen of the underworld; she was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld....

. The myth may have been derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus
Tartarus
In classic mythology, below Uranus , Gaia , and Pontus is Tartarus, or Tartaros . It is a deep, gloomy place, a pit, or an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld. In the Gorgias, Plato In classic mythology, below Uranus (sky), Gaia (earth), and Pontus...

 and charms the goddess Hecate
Hecate
Hecate or Hekate is a chthonic Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and crossroads.She is attested in poetry as early as Hesiod's Theogony...

.

This story also lead to the composition of the song Minuet and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice
Orfeo ed Euridice
Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck based on the myth of Orpheus, set to a libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi. It belongs to the genre of the azione teatrale, meaning an opera on a mythological subject with choruses and dancing...

.

The descent to the Underworld
Descent to the underworld
The descent to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse number of religions from around the world, including Christianity. The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or...

 of Orpheus is paralleled in other versions of a worldwide theme: the Japanese myth of Izanagi
Izanagi
is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto, and is also referred to in the roughly translated Kojiki as "male-who-invites" or Izanagi-no-mikoto. It is also pronounced Izanaki-no-Okami....

 and Izanami
Izanami
In Japanese mythology, is a goddess of both creation and death, as well as the former wife of the god Izanagi-no-Mikoto. She is also referred to as Izanami-no-kami.-Goddess of Creation:...

, the Akkad
Akkad
The Akkadian Empire was an empire centered in the city of Akkad and its surrounding region in Mesopotamia....

ian/Sumerian
Sumerian religion
Sumerian religion refers to the mythology, pantheon, rites and cosmology of the Sumerian civilization. The Sumerian religion influenced Mesopotamian mythology as a whole, surviving in the mythologies and religions of the Hurrians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and other culture...

 myth of Inanna
Inanna
Inanna, also spelled Inana is the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare....

's Descent to the Underworld
, and Mayan
Maya mythology
Mayan mythology is part of Mesoamerican mythology and comprises all of the Mayan tales in which personified forces of nature, deities, and the heroes interacting with these play the main roles...

 myth of Ix Chel and Itzamna
Itzamna
In Yucatec Maya mythology, Itzamna was the name of an upper god and creator deity thought to be residing in the sky. Little is known about him, but scattered references are present in early-colonial Spanish reports and dictionaries. Twentieth-century Lacandon lore includes tales about a creator...

. The Nez Perce tell a story about the trickster figure, Coyote
Coyote (mythology)
Coyote is a mythological character common to many Native American cultures, based on the coyote animal. This character is usually male and is generally anthropomorphic although he may have some coyote-like physical features such as fur, pointed ears, yellow eyes, a tail and claws...

, that shares many similarities with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. This is but one theme present in a larger "North American Orpheus Tradition" in American Indian oral tradition. The myth theme of not looking back, an essential precaution in Jason
Jason
Jason was a late ancient Greek mythological hero from the late 10th Century BC, famous as the leader of the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. He was the son of Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcus...

's raising of chthonic
Chthonic
Chthonic designates, or pertains to, deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in relation to Greek religion. The Greek word khthon is one of several for "earth"; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land or the land as territory...

 Brimo
Brimo
In ancient Greek religion and myth, the epithet Brimo— "angry" or "terrifying"— may be applied to any of several goddesses with an inexorable, dreaded and vengeful aspect that is linked to the land of the Dead: to Hecate or Persephone, to Demeter Erinyes— the angry, bereft Demeter— or, perhaps, to...

 Hekate
Hecate
Hecate or Hekate is a chthonic Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and crossroads.She is attested in poetry as early as Hesiod's Theogony...

 under Medea
Medea
Medea is a woman in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of...

's guidance, is reflected in the Biblical story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom
Sodom and Gomorrah
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities mentioned in the Book of Genesis and later expounded upon throughout the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and Deuterocanonical sources....

. The warning of not looking back is also found in the Grimms' folk tale "Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel
"Hansel and Gretel" is a well-known fairy tale of German origin, recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister threatened by a cannibalistic hag living deep in the forest in a house constructed of cake and confectionery. The two children...

". More directly, the story of Orpheus is similar to the ancient Greek tales of Persephone captured by Hades and similar stories of Adonis
Adonis
Adonis , in Greek mythology, the god of beauty and desire, is a figure with Northwest Semitic antecedents, where he is a central figure in various mystery religions. The Greek , Adōnis is a variation of the Semitic word Adonai, "lord", which is also one of the names used to refer to God in the Old...

 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
Mithraism
The Mithraic Mysteries were a mystery religion practised in the Roman Empire from about the 1st to 4th centuries AD. The name of the Persian god Mithra, adapted into Greek as Mithras, was linked to a new and distinctive imagery...

 and the cult of Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

.

Death



According to a Late Antique summary of Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

's lost play Bassarids, Orpheus at the end of his life disdained the worship of all gods save the sun, whom he called Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

. One early morning he went to the oracle of Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 at Mount Pangaion to salute his god at dawn, but was ripped to pieces by Thracian Maenad
Maenad
In Greek mythology, maenads were the female followers of Dionysus , the most significant members of the Thiasus, the god's retinue. Their name literally translates as "raving ones"...

s for not honoring his previous patron (Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

) and buried in Pieria. Here his death is analogous with the death of Pentheus
Pentheus
In Greek mythology, Pentheus was a king of Thebes, son of the strongest of the Spartes, Echion, and of Agave, daughter of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, and the goddess Harmonia....

.
Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 writes that Orpheus was buried in Dion and that he met his death there. He writes that the river Helicon
Helicon (river)
Helicon was a river of the Macedonian city Dion.- Bibliography:* Pausanias, Description of Greece with an English Translation, trans. W.H.S. Jones, and H.A. Ormerod, ....

 sank underground when the women that killed Orpheus tried to wash off their blood-stained hands in its waters.

Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 also recounts that the Ciconian women, Dionysus' followers, spurned by Orpheus, who had forsworn the love of women after the death of Eurydice and had taken only youths as his lovers, 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. Medieval folkore put additional spin on the story: in Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer was a German painter, printmaker, engraver, mathematician, and theorist from Nuremberg. His prints established his reputation across Europe when he was still in his twenties, and he has been conventionally regarded as the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance ever since...

's drawing (illustration, right) the ribbon high in the tree is lettered Orfeus der erst puseran ("Orpheus, the first sodomite") an interpretation of the passage in Ovid where Orpheus is said to have been "the first of the Thracian people to transfer his love to young boys."
His head and lyre, still singing mournful songs, floated down the swift Hebrus to the Mediterranean shore. There, the winds and waves carried them on to the Lesbos
Lesbos Island
Lesbos is a Greek island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea. It has an area of with 320 kilometres of coastline, making it the third largest Greek island. It is separated from Turkey by the narrow Mytilini Strait....

 shore, where the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in his honour near Antissa
Antissa
Antissa was a city of the island Lesbos , near to Cape Sigrium, the western point of Lesbos. The place had a harbour. The ruins found by Richard Pococke at Calas Limneonas, a little NE. of cape Sigri, may be those of Antissa. This place was the birth-place of Terpander, who is said to be the...

; there his oracle prophesied, until it was silenced by Apollo.

The lyre
Lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

 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 Leibethra
Leibethra
Libethra or Leibethra was a city close to Olympus where Orpheus was buried by the Muses. His tomb was later destroyed by a flood of the river Sys. It was a place where the Libethrian Nymphs were worshiped...

 below Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

, where the nightingale
Nightingale
The Nightingale , also known as Rufous and Common Nightingale, is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae...

s sang over his grave. After the river Sys flooded Leibethra, the Macedonians took his bones to Dion
Dion, Greece
Dion or Dio is a village and a former municipality in the Pieria regional unit, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform, it is part of the municipality Dio-Olympos, of which it is a municipal unit. It is best known for its archaeological site and archaeological museum. Zeus was honored at...

. His soul returned to the underworld, where he was reunited at last with his beloved Eurydice. Another legend places his tomb at Dion, near Pydna
Pydna
Pydna was a Greek city in ancient Macedon, the most important in Pieria. Modern Pydna is a small town and a former municipality in the northeastern part of Pieria regional unit, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pydna-Kolindros, of which it is a...

 in Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

. In another version of the myth Orpheus travels to Aornum
Aornum
Aornum was an oracle in Ancient Greece, located in Thesprotia in a cave called Charonium which gave forth poisonous vapours. The name of the cave, "Charon's Cave", reflects the belief that it was an entrance for Hades, the Greek underworld. In a version of the myth, Orpheus travels to Aornum to...

 in Thesprotia
Thesprotia
Thesprotia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the Epirus region. Its capital is the town of Igoumenitsa. It is named after the Thesprotians, an ancient Greek tribe that inhabited the region in antiquity.-History:...

, Epirus
Epirus
The name Epirus, from the Greek "Ήπειρος" meaning continent may refer to:-Geographical:* Epirus - a historical and geographical region of the southwestern Balkans, straddling modern Greece and Albania...

 to an old oracle for the dead. In the end Orpheus commits suicide from his grief unable to find Eurydice. Another account relates that he was struck with lightning by Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 for having revealed the mysteries of the gods to men.

In Strabo


Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 (64 BC – c. AD 24) surprisingly gives a more mundane telling of Orpheus's life, presenting him as a mortal, though he mentions that he was a "wizard" who lived and died in a village close to Olympus. He writes that he practiced his skill for money but later gathered followers and power that in the end killed him. He uses the word agurteuonta (αγυρτεύοντα), a term used by Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 in Oedipus Tyrannus to characterize Teiresias as a trickster with an excessive desire for possessions. The word agurtēs (αγύρτης) most often meant charlatan
Charlatan
A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception....

 and always had a negative connotation.

Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 wrote of an Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 who also had the opinion that Orpheus was a magician, using the word mageuse (μάγευσε).

A statue identified as Orpheus has been unearthed in Bulgaria, near a site archaeologists have proposed as the hero's tomb.

Orphic poems and rites




A number of Greek religious poems in hexameter
Hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

s were attributed to Orpheus, as they were to similar miracle-working figures, like Bakis
Bakis
Bakis or Bacis is a general name for the inspired prophets and dispensers of oracles who flourished in Greece from the 8th to the 6th century B.C. Suidas mentions three: a Boeotian, an Arcadian and an Athenian....

, Musaeus
Musaeus
Musaeus or Musaios was the name of three Greek poets.-Musaeus of Athens:Musaeus was a legendary polymath, philosopher, historian, prophet, seer, priest, poet, and musician, said to have been the founder of priestly poetry in Attica...

, Abaris, Aristeas
Aristeas
Aristeas was a semi-legendary Greek poet and miracle-worker, a native of Proconnesus in Asia Minor, active ca. 7th century BCE. In book IV of The Histories, Herodotus reports...

, Epimenides
Epimenides
Epimenides of Knossos was a semi-mythical 6th century BC Greek seer and philosopher-poet. While tending his father's sheep, he is said to have fallen asleep for fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave sacred to Zeus, after which he reportedly awoke with the gift of prophecy...

, and the Sibyl
Sibyl
The word Sibyl comes from the Greek word σίβυλλα sibylla, meaning prophetess. The earliest oracular seeresses known as the sibyls of antiquity, "who admittedly are known only through legend" prophesied at certain holy sites, under the divine influence of a deity, originally— at Delphi and...

. Of this vast literature, only two examples survived whole: a set of hymns composed at some point in the second or third century AD, and an Orphic Argonautica
Argonautica Orphica
Argonautica Orphica is a Greek epic poem dating from the 5th-6th centuries CE. It is narrated in the first person in the name of Orpheus and tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts. It is not known who the real author is...

 composed somewhere between the fourth and sixth centuries AD. Earlier Orphic literature, which may date back as far as the sixth century BC, survives only in papyrus
Papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 fragments or in quotations. Some of the earliest fragments may have been composed by Onomacritus
Onomacritus
Onomacritus , also known as Onomacritos or Onomakritos, was a Greek chresmologue, or compiler of oracles, who lived at the court of the tyrant Pisistratus in Athens...

.

In addition to serving as a storehouse of mythological data along the lines of Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

's Theogony
Theogony
The Theogony is a poem by Hesiod describing the origins and genealogies of the gods of the ancient Greeks, composed circa 700 BC...

, Orphic poetry was recited in mystery-rites and purification rituals. Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 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
Musaeus
Musaeus or Musaios was the name of three Greek poets.-Musaeus of Athens:Musaeus was a legendary polymath, philosopher, historian, prophet, seer, priest, poet, and musician, said to have been the founder of priestly poetry in Attica...

 in tow (Republic 364c-d). Those who were especially devoted to these ritual and poems often practiced vegetarianism
Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism encompasses the practice of following plant-based diets , with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat...

 and abstention from sex
Sex
In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

, and refrained from eating eggs and beans — which came to be known as the Orphikos bios, or "Orphic way of life".

The Derveni papyrus
Derveni papyrus
The Derveni papyrus is an ancient Greek papyrus roll that was found in 1962. It is a philosophical treatise that is an allegorical commentary on an Orphic poem, a theogony concerning the birth of the gods, produced in the circle of the philosopher Anaxagoras in the second half of the 5th century...

, found in Derveni
Derveni
-In Greece:*Derveni, Achaea, part of the municipality of Diakopto, Achaea*Derveni, Arcadia, part of the municipality of Megalopoli, Arcadia*Derveni, Corinthia, a town in the northwestern part of Corinthia, in the municipality Evrostini...

, Macedonia (Greece)
Macedonia (Greece)
Macedonia is a geographical and historical region of Greece in Southern Europe. Macedonia is the largest and second most populous Greek region...

 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
Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

, 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". The papyrus dates to around 340 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

, making it Europe's oldest surviving manuscript.
The historian William Mitford
William Mitford
William Mitford , English historian, was the elder of the two sons of John Mitford, a barrister and his wife Philadelphia Reveley.-Youth:...

 wrote in 1784 that the very earliest form of a higher and cohesive ancient Greek religion was manifest in the Orphic poems.

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.

Etymology


Several etymologies for the name Orpheus have been proposed. A probable suggestion is that it is derived from a hypothetical PIE
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 verb *orbhao-, "to be deprived", from PIE *orbh-, "to put asunder, separate". Cognates would include Greek orphe, "darkness", and Greek orphanos, "fatherless, orphan", from which comes English "orphan" by way of Latin. Orpheus would therefore be semantically close to goao, "to lament, sing wildly, cast a spell", uniting his seemingly disparate roles as disappointed lover, transgressive musician and mystery-priest into a single lexical whole. The word "orphic" is defined as mystic, fascinating and entrancing, and, probably, because of the oracle of Orpheus, "orphic" can also signify "oracular". Fulgentius
Fabius Planciades Fulgentius
Fabius Planciades Fulgentius was a late-antique period writer. Four extant works are commonly attributed to him, as well as a possible fifth which some scholars include in compilations with much reservation...

, a mythographer of the late 5th to early 6th century AD, gave the unlikely etymology meaning "best voice," "Oraia-phonos".

See also

  • Aornum
    Aornum
    Aornum was an oracle in Ancient Greece, located in Thesprotia in a cave called Charonium which gave forth poisonous vapours. The name of the cave, "Charon's Cave", reflects the belief that it was an entrance for Hades, the Greek underworld. In a version of the myth, Orpheus travels to Aornum to...

  • Leibethra
    Leibethra
    Libethra or Leibethra was a city close to Olympus where Orpheus was buried by the Muses. His tomb was later destroyed by a flood of the river Sys. It was a place where the Libethrian Nymphs were worshiped...

  • List of Orphean operas
  • Pierian Spring
  • Pimpleia
    Pimpleia
    Pimpleia was a city in Pieria in Ancient Greece, located near Dion and Mount Olympus. Pimpleia is described as a "κώμη" of Dion by Strabo. The location of Pimpleia is possibly to be identified with the modern village of Agia Paraskevi near Litochoron.It was renowned as the birthplace and early...


External links