Orpheus Orpheus is a figure from Greek mythology born in the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace (now partly in Bulgaria), king

of the Thracian tribe of Cicones. His name does not occur in Homer or Hesiod, but he was known by the time of Ibycus (c.530 BC). Orpheus was called by Pindar "the father of songs". He was a son of the Thracian river god Oiagros and the Muse Calliope, but as Karl Kerenyi 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." The Greeks of the Classical age venerated the legendary figure of Orpheus as chief among poets and musicians, and the perfector of the lyre invented by Hermes. Poets like Simonides of Ceos said that, with his music and singing, he could charm birds, fishes and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; even in Hades his song and lyre did not lose their power. As one of the pioneers of civilization, he is said at various times to have taught humanity the arts of medicine, writing (in one unusual instance, where he substitutes for the usual candidate, Cadmus) and agriculture, where he assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus. More consistently and more closely connected with religious life, Orpheus was an augur and seer; practised magical arts, especially astrology; founded or rendered accessible many important cults, such as those of Apollo and the Thraco-Phrygian god Dionysus; instituted mystic rites both public and private; and prescribed initiatory and purificatory rituals, which his community of followers treasured in Orphic texts. In addition, Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts. His son was Musaeus, "he of the Muses".

Several etymologies for the name Orpheus have been proposed. A probable suggestion is that it is derived from a hypothetical PIE 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".

Early life
Orpheus' father was Oeagrus a Thracian king (or, according to another version of the story, the god Apollo); his mother was the muse Calliope. While living with his mother and her eight beautiful sisters on Parnassus, he met Apollo who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo became fond of Orpheus and gave him a little golden lyre, and taught him to play it. Orpheus's mother taught him to make verses for singing.

Death of Eurydice
Orpheus and Eurydice

The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (also known as Agriope). While fleeing from Aristaeus (son of Apollo), Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her fatally on her heel. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (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. In his anxiety he forgot that both needed to be in the upper world, and he turned to look at her, 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. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus' visit to the underworld; according to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium, the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Ovid says that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day. 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. The myth may have been mistakenly derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate. The descent to the Underworld of Orpheus is paralleled in other versions of a worldwide theme: the Japanese myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Akkadian/Sumerian myth of Inanna's Descent to the Underworld, and Mayan myth of Ix Chel and Itzamna. The mytheme of not looking back, an essential precaution in Jason's raising of chthonic Brimo Hekate under Medea's guidance, is reflected in the story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom. The warning of not looking back is also found in the Grimms' folk tale "Hansel and Gretel." 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.

Albrecht Dürer envisioned the death of Orpheus in this pen and ink drawing, 1494 (Kunsthalle, Hamburg) According to some versions of the story (notably Ovid's), Orpheus forswore the love of women after the death of Eurydice and took only youths as his lovers; he was reputed to be the one who introduced pederasty to the Thracians, teaching them to "love the young in the flower of their youth." According to a Late Antique summary of Aeschylus's lost play Bassarids, Orpheus at the end of his life disdained the worship of all gods save the sun, whom he called Apollo. One early morning he went to the oracle of Dionysus to salute his god at dawn, but was torn to death by Thracian Maenads for not honoring his previous patron, Dionysus. Here his death is analogous with the death of Pentheus. Ovid (Metamorphoses XI) also recounts that the Thracian Maenads, Dionysus' followers, angry for having been spurned by Orpheus in favor of "tender boys," 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 Maenads tore him to pieces during the frenzy of their Bacchic orgies. Later, the story would sometimes be seen from a Christian moralist angle: in Albrecht Dürer's drawing (illustration, right) the ribbon high in the tree is lettered Orfeus der erst puseran ("Orpheus, the first sodomite"). Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, by John William Waterhouse 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 shore, where the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in his honour near Antissa; there his oracle prophesied, until it was silenced by Apollo. The 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 Leibethra below Mount Olympus, where the nightingales sang over his grave. 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 in Macedonia. Other accounts of his death are that he killed himself from grief at the failure of his journey to Hades, or that he was struck with lightning by Zeus for having revealed the mysteries of the gods to men, or he was torn to pieces by the Maenads for having abandoned the cult of Dionysus for that of Apollo.

Orphic poems and rites
Main article: Orphism (religion) A 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 examples survived whole: a set of hymns composed at some point in the second or third century AD, and an Orphic Argonautica 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 fragments or in quotations. In 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 (Republic 364c-d). Those who were especially devoted to these ritual 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". 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". The papyrus dates to around 340 BC, during the reign of Philip II of Macedon, making it Europe's oldest surviving manuscript. Orpheus with the lyre and surrounded by beasts, Byzantine & Christian Museum, Athens The historian William Mitford 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.