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Orpheus

Orpheus

Orpheus, according to Greek myth, is one of the few who descended into Hell and lived to tell about it. The son of Oeagrus (King of Thrace) and the muse Calliope, he is famous for his musical and poetic gifts inherited from Apollo and the Muses. His lyre and his odes were so charming that upon hearing them, wild animals became quiet, and trees and rocks started to move.

Orpheus fell in love with the nymph Eurydice and married her, but she died suddenly from a snake bite. In despair, Orpheus followed Euridyce into Hades (Hell) to bring her back. His music and lyrics enchanted Hades' protectors, even the triple-headed dog, Cerberus, and the gods of Hades were persuaded to bring back to life his dead wife. One condition of Eurydices' return was that he could not look back at her until he reached the threshold of Hades. Orpheus looked back to see whether Eurydice was following him and lost her forever.

Orpheus's death is subject to many interpretations, but the most common is that the Thracian women, jealous of his love and fidelity toward his deceased wife and hurt by his indifference, tore his body to pieces and threw his head and lyre into the river Hebre. His remains finally reached Lesbos Island, the cradle of lyric poetry. Orpheus is also considered an initiate, a prophet who retained secrets from the afterlife, having brought back revelations from his descent into Hell.

The Orpheus myth has inspired many forms of artistic representation, among them the vanished Polygnote fresco (fifth century B.C.E.), which presented Orpheus during his descent into Hell, that has now disappeared; Orfeo, a musical drama by Monteverdi (1607); Orph'ee aux Enfers, a spectacular opera by Offenbach (1858) and Le testament d'Orph'ee, a film by Jean Cocteau (1959).

See also: Charon and the River Styx; Operatic Death

Bibliography

Coulter, Charles R., and Patricia Turner. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2000.

Sacks, David. A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Warden, John. Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

ISABELLE MARCOUX

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Orpheus

Orpheus (ôr´fēəs, ôr´fyōōs), in Greek mythology, celebrated Thracian musician. He was the son of Calliope by Apollo or, according to another legend, by Oeagrus, a king of Thrace. Supposedly, the music of his lyre was so beautiful that when he played, wild beasts were soothed, trees danced, and rivers stood still. Orpheus married the nymph Eurydice. When Aristaeus tried to violate her, she fled, was bitten by a snake, and died. Orpheus descended to Hades searching for her. He was granted the chance to regain Eurydice if he could refrain from looking at her until he had led her back to sunlight. Orpheus could not resist, and Eurydice vanished forever. Grieving inconsolably, he became a recluse and wandered for many years. According to some legends, he became a devoted follower of Dionysus and introduced that god's cult in many places, but the women of Thrace, offended by his inattention, tore him to pieces. Another legend says that Orpheus taught the Thracian men to worship the sun (Apollo) above all other gods; in revenge Dionysus caused the wives of the Thracian men to murder their husbands and tear Orpheus to pieces. It was said that his head was thrown into the river Hebrus and floated, still singing, into the sea to the island of Lesbos, where an oracle of Orpheus was established. He was celebrated in the Orphic Mysteries.

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Orpheus

Orpheus in Greek mythology, a poet who could entrance wild beasts with the beauty of his singing and lyre playing. He went to the underworld after the death of his wife Eurydice and secured her release from the dead, but lost her because he failed to obey the condition that he must not look back at her until they had reached the world of the living. It was said that when he was killed by being torn to pieces by maenads, his severed head floated down the river Hebrus and reached the island of Lesbos, which became the home of lyric poetry.

Orphism was a mystic religion of ancient Greece, originating in the 7th or 6th century bc and based on poems (now lost) attributed to Orpheus, emphasizing the mixture of good and evil in human nature and the necessity for individuals to rid themselves of the evil part of their nature by ritual and moral purification throughout a series of reincarnations.

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Orpheus

Orpheus

In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a musician who sang and played so beautifully that even animals, rocks, and trees danced to his tunes. He was the son of Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, and of the god Apollo*. It was Apollo who gave Orpheus his first lyre, the instrument that he always played.

Orpheus accompanied Jason* and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece* and used his music several times to ease their journey. On one occasion, he calmed the sea with his playing; another time, he saved the Argonauts from the deadly Sirens by playing so loudly that they could not hear the Sirens' songs. He also stopped the Argonauts from quarreling with a song about the origins of the universe.

Orpheus fell in love with the nymph Eurydice. Shortly after their marriage, Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. The grieving Orpheus refused to play or sing for a long time. Finally he decided to go to the underworld to find Eurydice. His playing enchanted Charon, the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx into the underworld. Charon agreed to take Orpheus across the river, even though he was not dead. Orpheus's music also tamed Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the underworld. Even Hades and Persephone, king and queen of the underworld, could not resist his playing. They agreed to let him take Eurydice back to earthon one condition. He was not to look back at her until they had both reached the surface. Orpheus led his wife from the underworld, and when he reached the surface, he was so overjoyed that he looked back to share the moment with Eurydice. Immediately she disappeared into the underworld.

Muse one of nine sister goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences

lyre stringed instrument similar to a small harp

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

underworld land of the dead

Orpheus spent the rest of his life grieving for his lost wife. In time his grief infuriated the Maenads, a group of women who worshiped the god Dionysus*. To punish Orpheus for neglecting their

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

attentions, they tore him to pieces. The Muses gathered up the pieces of his body and buried them, but the Maenads threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus. The head continued to sing, and the lyre continued to play, and both eventually floated down to the sea, finally coming to rest on the island of Lesbos. The head became an oracle that rivaled the oracle to Apollo at Delphi*. The gods placed the lyre in the heavens as a constellation.

See also Argonauts; Calliope; Eurydice; Muses.

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

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Orpheus

Orpheus In Greek mythology, the son of Calliope by Apollo, and the finest of all poets and musicians. Orpheus married Eurydice, who died after being bitten by a snake. He descended into the Underworld to rescue her and was allowed to regain her if he did not look back at her until they emerged into the sunlight. He could not resist, and Eurydice vanished forever.

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Orpheus

Orpheus.
1. Sym.-poem by Liszt, comp. 1853–4 as introduction to his Weimar prod. of Gluck's Orfeo.

2. Ballet in 3 scenes to mus. by Stravinsky, comp. 1947, choreog. Balanchine, prod. NY 1948, Hamburg 1962. Other versions choreog. Cranko, Georgi, and others.

3. Ballet in 2 acts by Henze, scenario by Edward Bond. Comp. 1978. Prod. Stuttgart 1979.

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Orpheus

OrpheusBierce, fierce, Pearce, Peirce, pierce, tierce •Fabius, scabious •Eusebius •amphibious, Polybius •dubious • Thaddeus • compendious •radius • tedious •fastidious, hideous, insidious, invidious, perfidious •Claudiuscommodious, melodious, odious •studious • Cepheus •Morpheus, Orpheus •Pelagius • callipygous • Vitellius •alias, Sibelius, Vesalius •Aurelius, Berzelius, contumelious, Cornelius, Delius •bilious, punctilious, supercilious •coleus • Julius • nucleus • Equuleus •abstemious •Ennius, Nenniuscontemporaneous, cutaneous, extemporaneous, extraneous, instantaneous, miscellaneous, Pausanias, porcellaneous, simultaneous, spontaneous, subcutaneous •genius, heterogeneous, homogeneous, ingenious •consanguineous, ignominious, Phineas, sanguineous •igneous, ligneous •Vilnius •acrimonious, antimonious, ceremonious, erroneous, euphonious, felonious, harmonious, parsimonious, Petronius, sanctimonious, Suetonius •Apollonius • impecunious •calumnious • Asclepius • impious •Scorpius •copious, Gropius, Procopius •Marius • pancreas • retiarius •Aquarius, calcareous, Darius, denarius, gregarious, hilarious, multifarious, nefarious, omnifarious, precarious, Sagittarius, senarius, Stradivarius, temerarious, various, vicarious •Atreus •delirious, Sirius •vitreous •censorious, glorious, laborious, meritorious, notorious, uproarious, uxorious, vainglorious, victorious •opprobrious •lugubrious, salubrious •illustrious, industrious •cinereous, deleterious, imperious, mysterious, Nereus, serious, Tiberiuscurious, furious, injurious, luxurious, penurious, perjurious, spurious, sulphureous (US sulfureous), usurious •Cassius, gaseous •Alcaeus • Celsius •Theseus, Tiresias •osseous, Roscius •nauseous •caduceus, Lucius •Perseus • Statius • Propertius •Deo gratias • plenteous • piteous •bounteous •Grotius, Photius, Proteus •beauteous, duteous •courteous, sestertius •Boethius, Prometheus •envious • Octavius •devious, previous •lascivious, niveous, oblivious •obvious •Vesuvius, Vitruviusimpervious, pervious •aqueous • subaqueous • obsequious •Dionysius

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