Episode #8 of the course “Heroes of Greek Legend”
The most renowned musician and singer of classic Greek myth, Orpheus was the son of the muse Calliope and the mortal King Oeagrus. He grew up with his mother and the other muses, learning to play the lyre under the instruction of the god Apollo himself. He was so good that he charmed beasts, and even rocks thrown at him while he was playing would not hit him.
While Jason and the Argonauts were out questing for the Golden Fleece, Orpheus was on his own journey. It was he who helped the ship escape the Sirens by playing his lyre louder and singing more beautifully than their bewitching tune. It is said that Orpheus was the first famous Greek homosexual—he was widely known for his love of the Argonaut Calais. However, the most famous tale of Orpheus is of his attempted rescue of his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld.
Bitten by a snake on their wedding day, Eurydice succumbed quickly. Orpheus’ mournful music over her body was so sad that the gods wept to hear it. Unable to bear her loss, Orpheus journeyed to the Underworld and charmed the god Hades with his lyre and song. Hades agreed to let Eurydice leave the Underworld as long as neither she nor Orpheus looked back as they departed. But Orpheus did look back, and Eurydice was lost to him.
Legends vary about Orpheus’ death, although the most common is that he was torn to pieces while playing his lyre in honor of Apollo. When a group of female Dionysus worshippers demanded he play in honor of their goddess and he would not, they killed him. Although dead, his head continued singing. It was thrown into the river and floated to the isle of Lesbos, where it was buried. A shrine still exists to Orpheus at the site.
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