Orpheus was the son of King Oaegrus of Thrace and the Muse Calliope. After learning the art of playing the lyre from Apollo, Orpheus became one of the most reknown musicians in all of ancient Greece. So beautiful were the notes he played, that wild beasts became tame and both rocks and trees were inclined to leave their settings and follow after the minstrel and his haunting melodies. It is said that in Thrace a number of oak trees still stand in the pattern of one of his dances.
There they remain, yearning for the day when the air would once again ring delightfully with the sounds of his magical music, and the earth would be the stage for their ancient promenade.
Orpheus joined the Argonauts and sailed with them on their famous journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis. He was able to keep the peace among the unruly crew by filling the air with the sweet sounds of his lyre. All differences immediately ceased with the playing of his first note. When the men grew tired from rowing, Orpheus would take out his instrument and with each strum they would feel more alert and refreshed with energy.
Orpheus proved to be most valuable when the Argo approached the island of the Sirens. These curious creatures were bird-like women whose strange and beautiful melodies lured sailors to their death. Whenever a ship drew near, these enchanting sea nymphs would raise their voices in song, robbing all those within hearing distance of any past memories. With no will or ambition, the men were contented to slowly waste away upon the sandy beach. Orpheus was responsible for saving the Argonauts from this terrible fate.
As the ship glided past the island's shore, Orpheus silenced the deadly song of the Sirens by strumming a tune on his lyre. Soon after returning from his voyage, Orpheus fell in love and wed a lovely nymph called Eurydice. The two were very happy, but it would not be long before tragedy would pay a visit to the young couple.
One day a son of Apollo known as Aristaeus approached Eurydice in an amourous fashion. Desperately trying to escape his advances, she quickly ran across the meadow, but to her dismay was bitten upon the ankle by a poisonous viper hiding in the tall grass. The wound proved to be fatal and Orpheus deeply mourned the loss of his young wife.
Knowing he could not live without her, Orpheus traveled down to hades in hopes of charming Dis into allowing Eurydice to return to him. As hes made his way into the underworld, Orpheus played his lyre so sweetly that the spirits forgot their labours and stood by to listen. So charmed was the guard dog Cerberus, that he laid perfectly still and allowed Orpheus to drift freely past the gates of hades. Those doomed to the agonies of Tartarus were also granted a moment of peace; the wheel of Ixion stood still, Tantalus forgot his thirst and Sisyphus rested upon his stone.
Even the Furies wept as Orpheus sang his pleas before Hades and his bride Queen Persephone. Unable to refuse the wonderous sounds, the Lord of the Dead summoned Eurydice to his throne.
Hades agreed to grant Orpheus his wish and allow Eurydice to return to the upper world, but there would be one stipulation. Orpheus must promise not to look behind and gaze upon the image of his wife until they once again enter into the realm of the living. Orpheus agreed and quickly made his way through the dark caverns, trusting that his bride was following close behind him. Just before reaching the top, he was gripped with the fear that Dis just might be playing a terrible trick on him. Why should he take the word of such a god as Hades?
Is he not the same god that tricked poor Persephone into eating pomrgranate seeds to prolong her stay in the underworld?
With streams of light just beginning to become visable, Orpheus approached the last step of his journey. His heart pounded with anticipation as he neared the exit, but he would not be satisfied until he had one quick look.
But alas! He had turned to soon! Hades had been true to his word, but in that brief moment of suspicion all was lost. Eurydice had indeed been following behind but now she was gone forever. Orpheus watched in horror as his beloved faded back into the world of the spirits, leaving him with only the soft whisper of her voice as she bade him a mournful goodbye.
Orpheus tried to once again descend into Hades but the door was now barred and passage was forbidden. Alone and destitute, he returned to his home a saddened and broken man. He shunned the company of others, choosing to roam solitary through the land of Thrace, weeping and playing sad tunes on his lyre. One fateful day, Orpheus came upon a frenzied band of Maenads, the female followers of the god Dionysus. He was attacked by the crazed women, and like Pentheus, was torn apart limb by limb. His dismembered body was left upon the mountain, where the Muses gathered up the scattered pieces and buried them at his home in Pieria.
Only the head remained, floating upon the sea until finally washing ashore upon the the Isle of Lesbos. There it received a proper burial, and as a reward for their kindness, the inhabitants were blessed in the art of music.
In honor of their most admired friend, the Muses placed Orpheus' lyre in the heavens as the constellation Lyra. The Mysteries of Dionysus consisted of a sect of followers of Orpheus, hence inheriting the title of Orphic Mysteries. To the Orphics, the traditional practice of consuming raw flesh, known as "omophagia" was viewed as the original sin and banned from the sacred rites.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2015.