Anonymous, Contest of Homer and Hesiod
Now some say that Homer was earlier than Hesiod, others that he was younger and akin to him. They give his descent thus: Apollon and Aethusa, daughter of Poseidon, had a son Linos, to whom was born Pieros. From Pieruos and the Nymph Methone sprang Oiagros; and from Oiagros and Kalliope Orpheus; from Orpheus, Dres; and from him, Eukles. The descent is continued through Iadmonides, Philoterpes, Euphemos, Epiphrades and Melanopos who had sons Dios and Apelles. Dios by Pykimede, the daughter of Apollon had two sons Hesiod and Perses; while Apelles begot Maeon who was the father of Homer by a daughter of the River Meles.
Anonymous, Greek Anthology 7.10.1-3
The fair-haired daughters of Bistonia shed a thousand tears for Orpheus dead, the son of Kalliope and Oiagros; they stained their tattooed arms with blood and dyed their Thracian locks with black ashes.
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 1.23-34
First then let us name Orpheus whom once Kalliope bare, it is said, wedded to Thracian Oeigros, near the Pimpleian height. Men say that he by the music of his songs charmed the stubborn rocks upon the mountains and the course of rivers. And the wild oak-trees to this day, tokens of that magic strain, that grow at Zone on the Thracian shore, stand in ordered ranks close together, the same which under the charm of his lyre he led down from Pieria. Such then was Orpheus whom Aeson’s son welcomed to share his toils, in obedience to the behest of Cheiron, Orpheus ruler of Bistonian Pieria.
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 1.1076 – 1152
For twelve days after the landing of the Argonauts in Kyzikos there was foul weather day and night, and the Argonauts were unable to put out. But towards the end of the next night, while Akastos and Mopsos watched over their comrades, who had long been fast asleep, a halcyon hovered over the head of Aison’s son and in its piping voice announced the end of the gales. Mopsos heard it and understood the happy omen. So when the sea-bird, still directed by a god, flew off and perched on the mascot of the ship, he went over to Jason, who lay comfortably wrapped in fleeces, woke him quickly with a touch and said : `My lord, you must climb this holy peak to propitiate Rheia, Mother of all the happy Gods, whose lovely throne is Dindymon itself–and then the gales will cease. I learnt this from a halcyon just now: the sea-bird flew above you as you slept and told me all. Rheia’s dominion covers the winds, the sea, the whole earth, and the gods’ home on snow-capped Olympos. Zeus himself, the son of Kronos, gives place to her when she leaves her mountain haunts and rises into the broad sky. So too do the other blessed ones; all pay the same deference to that dread goddess.’ This was welcome news to Jason, who leaps up from his bed rejoicing. He hastily woke the rest and told them how Mopsos had interpreted the signs. They set to work at once. The younger men took some oxen from the stalls and began to drive them up the steep path to the top of Dindymon . . . Standing in the woods, there was an ancient vine with a massive trunk withered to the roots. They cut this down to make a sacred image of the Mountain Goddess; and when Argos had skilfully shaped it, they set it up on a rocky eminence under the shelter some tall oaks, the highest trees that grow, and made an altar of small stones near by. Then, crowned with oak-leaved, they began the sacrificial rites, invoking the Mother of Mount Dindymos, most worshipful, who dwells in Phrygia; and with her, Titias and Kyllenos. For these two are singled out as dispensers of doom and assessors to the Mother of Mount Ida from the many Idaian Daktyloi of Crete. They were borne in the Diktaian cave by the Nymph Anchiale as she clutched the earth of Oaxos with both her hands. Jason, pouring libations on the blazing sacrifice, earnestly besought the goddess to send the stormy winds elsewhere. At the same time, by command of Orpheus, the younger men in full armour moved round in a high-stepping dance, beating their shields with their swords to drown the ill-omened cries that came up from the city, where the people were still wailing for their king. This is why the Phrygians to this day propitiate Rheia with the tambourine and drum. The goddess they invoked must have observed the flawless sacrifice with pleasure, for her own appropriate signs appeared. The trees shed abundant fruit; the earth at their feet adorned itself with tender grass; beasts left their lairs and thickets and came to them with wagging tails. And these were no her only miracles. Until that day there had been no running water on Dindymon. But now, with no digging on their part, a stream gushed out for them from the thirsty peak. And it did not cease to flow; the natives of the place still drink from it. They call it Iason’s Spring. As a finish to the rites, they held a feast on Arktonoros (Bear Mountain) in honour of Rhea and sang the praises of the venerable goddess. By dawn the wind had dropped and they rowed off from the peninsular.
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 2.685–693
At last Orpheus made this declaration to the heroes: “Come, let us name the sacred island of Apollo Heoïus, because he appeared at dawn to us all as he passed by, and let us set up an altar on the shore and sacrifice whatever is at hand. And if hereafter he grants us a safe return to the Haemonian land, then indeed we shall place on his altar the thighs of horned goats. But for now, I bid you propitiate him as best we can with the savor of meat and libations. Be gracious, lord, be gracious, you who appeared to us.”
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.1408–1418
The women instantly turned to dust and earth there on the spot. Orpheus recognized the divine portent and for his comrades’ sake sought to comfort the nymphs with prayers. “O goddesses beautiful and kind, be gracious, O queens whether you are counted among the heavenly goddesses or those under the earth, or are called solitary nymphs, come, O nymphs, holy offspring of Ocean, and appear before our longing eyes and show us either some flow of water from a rock or some sacred stream gushing from the ground, goddesses, with which we may relieve our endlessly burning thirst.”
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.1547–1555
And suddenly Orpheus advised taking Apollo’s great tripod from the ship and placing it as a propitiary offering to the indigenous divinities to secure their return. So they disembarked and were setting up Phoebus’ gift on the shore, and wide-ruling Triton met them in the guise of a young man. He picked up a clod of earth and offered it as a guest-gift to the heroes, and said: “Take this, friends, since I do not now have here with me any magnificent guest-gift to give to suppliants.”
Aristophanes, The Frogs 1030-33
For consider how useful our noble-minded poets have been from the beginning. Orpheus revealed to us the mysteries and abstinence from murder, Musaeus taught us cures from illnesses and oracles.
Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 1.11.2
Meanwhile, it was reported that the statue of Orpheus, son of Oiagros the Thracian, in Pieria, had sweated continuously; the seers interpreted this variously, but Aristander of Telmissos encouraged Alexander by saying that it meant that makers of epics and choric songs and writers of odes would be hard at work on poetry and hymns honoring Alexander and his exploits.
Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 597a
Such was she whom the dear son of Oeagros, armed only with the lyre, brought back from Haides, even the Thracian Agriope. Aye, he sailed to that evil and inexorable place where Charon drags into the common barque the souls of the departed; and over the lake he shouts afar, as it pours its flood from out the tall reeds. Yet Orpheus, though girded for the journey all alone, dared to sound his lyre beside the wave, and he won over gods of every shape; even the lawless Kokytos he saw, raging beneath his banks; and he flinched not before the gaze of the hound most dread, his voice baying forth angry fire, with fire his cruel eye gleaming, an eye that on triple heads bore terror. Whence, by his song, Orpheus persuaded the mighty lords that Agriope should recover the gentle breath of life. Nor did the son of the Moon, Mousaios, master of the Graces, cause Antiope to go without her due of honour. And she, beside Eleusis’ strand, expounded to the initiates the loud, sacred voice of mystic oracles, as she duly escorted the priest through the Rarian plain to honour Demeter. And she is known even in Hades.
Celsus, as quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum 7.53
If you do not like Herakles and Asklepios and those who have been glorified since antiquity, then you have Orpheus – who, as everyone recognizes, possessed a divine spirit, and who also died violently.
Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.107
Aristotle says that Orpheus never existed, and it is common opinion that this Orphic
poem is by one Cercops, a Pythagorean; but Orpheus, that is, his image as you prefer to say, is frequently present in my spirit.
Claudian, Letter to Serena XXXI
At the first kindling of Orpheus’ marriage-torch when festive Hymen filled the countryside of Thrace the beasts and gay-plumaged birds strove among themselves what best gifts they could bring their poet. Mindful of the cave whose sounding rocks had offered a wondrous theatre for his tuneful lyre, the lynxes brought him crystal from the summits of Caucasus; griffins golden nuggets from regions of the north; doves wreaths of roses and other flowers which they had flown to gather from Venus’ meadow; the swan bore from the stream of its native Padus amber broken from the boughs of the famed sisters; while the cranes, after their war with the pygmies, recrossed the Nile and gathered in their mouths the precious pearls of the Red Sea. There came, too, immortal Phoenix from the distant East, bearing rare spices in his curvèd talons. No bird nor beast was there but brought to that marriage-feast tribute so richly deserved by Orpheus’ lyre.
Busily Calliopea decked her son’s bride with her riches and all the treasures of Helicon, and, moreover, with a mother’s pride dared to invite to her son’s wedding the queen of starry heaven herself. The queen of the gods spurned not her request either out of respect for Calliopea herself or because she was drawn by a just affection for the pious poet who had so often in her honour chanted his songs before her altars, hymning Juno’s godhead with his sweet voice and telling of the battles of her lord the Thunderer waged on the plains of Phlegra, and of the menace of Enceladus and the Titans there broken. Straightway, counting the marriage-night worthy of her presence, she brought heavenly gifts to deck the bridal, gifts such as stoop not to adorn mortals, gifts that the gods alone may possess.
Clement of Alexandria, Book One of Exhortation to the Greeks
Amphion of Thebes and Arion of Methymna were both minstrels, and both were renowned in story. They are celebrated in song to this day in the chorus of the Greeks; the one for having allured the fishes, and the other for having surrounded Thebes with walls by the power of music. Another, a Thracian, a cunning master of his art (he also is the subject of a Hellenic legend), tamed the wild beasts by the mere might of song; and transplanted trees–oaks–by music.
How, let me ask, have you believed vain fables and supposed animals to be charmed by music while Truth’s shining face alone, as would seem appears to you disguised, and is looked on with incredulous eyes? And so Cithaeron, and Helicon, and the mountains of the Odrysi, and the initiatory rites of the Thracians, mysteries of deceit, are hallowed and celebrated in hymns. For me, I am pained at such calamities as form the subjects of tragedy, though but myths; but by you the records of miseries are turned into dramatic compositions.
But the dramas and the raving poets, now quite intoxicated, let us crown with ivy; and distracted outright as they are, in Bacchic fashion, with the satyrs, and the frenzied rabble, and the rest of the demon crew, let us confine to Cithaeron and Helicon, now antiquated. Soother of pain, calmer of wrath, producing forgetfulness of all ills. Sweet and true is the charm of persuasion which blends with this strain.
To me, therefore, that Thracian Orpheus, that Theban, and that Methymnaean, – men, and yet unworthy of the name, – seem to have been deceivers, who, under the pretence of poetry corrupting human life, possessed by a spirit of artful sorcery for purposes of destruction, celebrating crimes in their orgies, and making human woes the materials of religious worship, were the first to entice men to idols; nay, to build up the stupidity of the nations with blocks of wood and stone,–that is, statues and images,–subjecting to the yoke of extremest bondage the truly noble freedom of those who lived as free citizens under heaven by their songs and incantations.
Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 1.21.131
To be sure, Onomacritus the Athenian, whose work the poems ascribed to Orpheus are said to be, lived during the reign of the Peisistratids around the time of the fiftieth Olympiad, but Orpheus, who sailed with Heracles, was the teacher of Musaeus. For Amphion preceded the Trojan War by two generations, and Demodocus and Phemius were famous kitharodes after the capture of Troy, the former among the Phaeacians, the latter among the suitors. They say that the oracles ascribed to Musaeus are really by Onomacritus, that the Krater of Orpheus is by Zopyrus of Heraclea, and the Katabasis to Hades is the work of Prodicus the Samian. But Ion of Chios in the Triagmoi says that Pythagoras, too, attributed some of his own works to Orpheus. But Epigenes, in hisOn the Poetry Ascribed to Orpheus, says that the Katabasis to Hades and the Sacred Discourse are the work of Cercops the Pythagorean and the Robe and Physika, of Brontinus.
Conon, fragment 1.45
The forty-fifth narration. How Orpheus the son of Oeagrus and Calliope—one of the Muses—was king of the Macedonians and the Odrysian land, and practised music, especially singing to the accompaniment of the kithara. And in this he gave exceptional pleasure to the populace (for the race of Thracians and Macedonians is music-loving). And the belief prevailed that he went down to Hades out of love for his wife Eurydice and that, having ensorcelled Pluto and Kore with his songs, he received his wife as a gift. But he was not able to enjoy the favour of her revival, since he forgot the instructions about her. He was so skilled at bewitching and enchanting with his songs that even beasts and birds and, what is more, trees and rocks followed him around out of pleasure.
But he died when Thracian and Macedonian women tore him to pieces, because he would not give them a share in his rites—and perhaps also for other reasons. For they say that after the misfortunes he suffered with his wife he hated the entire female sex. So, on fixed days, a crowd of armed Thracians and Macedonians would come to Libethra, gathering in a large dwelling that was well suited for initiations. Whenever they went in to perform the orgiastic rites, they left their weapons in front of the gates. The women watched for this and after seizing the weapons because of their anger at the dishonour done to them, killed the men who attacked them and tore Orpheus apart, scattering his limbs into the sea.
But the land was being ravaged by a plague because the women had not paid the penalty and, when they begged for relief from the disaster, the citizens received an oracle that if they found and buried the head of Orpheus, they would meet with deliverance. With difficulty they found it, through the help of a fisherman, around the mouth of the river Meles, even then still singing and having suffered no harm from the sea, nor any other of the disfigurements of corpses which mortal deaths bring, but in perfect condition and blooming with living blood despite the considerable passage of time. So they took it and buried it beneath a great monument, enclosing it within a sacred precinct, which for a while was a hero-shrine but later won out as a temple. It is honoured with sacrifices and all the other things with which the gods are honoured. And it is absolutely forbidden for women to enter.
Damagetus, Palatine Anthology 7.9
This tomb holds Orpheus, by the Thracian foot of Olympus, the son of the Muse Calliope, whom oaks did not disobey, in whose company soulless rocks followed, and the herd of beasts who dwell in the forest. He once also discovered the mystical rites of Bacchus and fashioned the verse that is yoked to the heroic foot. He even bewitched with his lyre the grave mind and charm-proof heart of implacable Clymenus.
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 1.91.7-96.7
This explains why many Egyptians keep the bodies of their ancestors in costly chambers and gaze face to face upon those who died many generations before their own birth, so that, as they look upon the stature and proportions and the features of the countenance of each, they experience a strange enjoyment, as though they had lived with those on whom they gaze.
When the body is ready to be buried the family announces the day of interment to the judges and to the relatives and friends of the deceased, and solemnly affirms that he who has just passed away — giving his name — “is about to cross the lake.” Then, when the judges, forty-two in number, have assembled and have taken seats in a hemicycle which has been built across the lake, the baris is launched, which has been prepared in advance by men especially engaged in that service, and which is in the charge of the boatman whom the Egyptians in their language is called charon. For this reason they insist that Orpheus, having visited Egypt in ancient times and witnessed this custom, merely invented his account of Hades, in part reproducing this practice and in part inventing on his own account; but this point we shall discuss more fully a little later.
Orpheus, for instance, brought from Egypt most of his mystic ceremonies, the orgiastic rites that accompanied his wanderings, and his fabulous account of his experiences in Hades. For the rite of Osiris is the same as that of Dionysus and that of Isis very similar to that of Demeter, the names alone having been interchanged; and the punishments in Hades of the unrighteous, the Fields of the Righteous, and the fantastic conceptions, current among the many, which are figments of the imagination — all these were introduced by Orpheus in imitation of the Egyptian funeral customs. Hermes, for instance, the Conductor of Souls, according to the ancient Egyptian custom, brings up the body of the Apis to a certain point and then gives it over to one who wears the mask of Cerberus. And after Orpheus had introduced this notion among the Greeks, Homer followed it when he wrote:
Cyllenian Hermes then did summon forth
The suitors’s souls, holding his wand in hand.
And again a little further on he says:
They passed Oceanus’ streams, the Gleaming Rock,
The Portals of the Sun, the Land of Dreams;
And now they reached the Meadow of Asphodel,
Where dwell the Souls, the shades of men outworn.
Now he calls the river “Oceanus” because in their language the Egyptians speak of the Nile as Oceanus; the “Portals of the Sun” (Heliopulai) is his name for the city of Heliopolis; and “Meadows,” the mythical dwelling of the dead, is his term for the place near the lake which is called Acherousia, which is near Memphis, and around it are fairest meadows, of a marsh-land and lotus and reeds. The same explanation also serves for the statement that the dwelling of the dead is in these regions, since the most and the largest tombs of the Egyptians are situated there, the dead being ferried across both the river and Lake Acherousia and their bodies laid in the vaults situated there.
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 3.64.6-65.1-6
There the boy was reared by nymphs and was given the name Dionysos after his father and after the place; and since he grew to be of unusual beauty he at first spent his time at dances and with bands of women and in every kind of luxury and amusement, and after that, forming the women into an army and arming them with thyrsi, he made a campaign over all the inhabited world. He also instructed all men who were pious and cultivated a life of justice in the knowledge of his rites and initiated them into his mysteries, and, furthermore, in every place he held great festive assemblages and celebrated musical contests; and, in a word, he composed the quarrels between the nations and cities and created concord and deep peace where there had existed civil strifes and wars.
Now since the presence of the god, the myth goes on to say, became noised abroad in every region, and the report spread that he was treating all men honourably and contributing greatly to the refinement of man’s social life, the whole populace everywhere thronged to meet him and welcomed him with great joy. There were a few, however, who, out of disdain and impiety, looked down upon him and kept saying that he was leading the Bacchantes about with him because of his incontinence and was introducing the rites and the mysteries that he might thereby seduce the wives of other men, but such persons were punished by him right speedily. For in some cases he made use of the superior power which attended his divine nature and punished the impious, either striking them with madness or causing them while still living to be torn limb from limb by the hands of the women; in other cases he destroyed such as opposed him by a military device which took them by surprise. For he distributed to the women, instead of the thyrsi, lances whose tips of iron were covered with ivy leaves; consequently, when the kings in their ignorance and for this reason were unprepared, he attacked them when they did not expect it and slew them with the spears. Among those who were punished by him, the most renowned, they say, were Pentheus among the Greeks, Myrrhanos the king of the Indians, and Lykourgos among the Thracians.
For the myth relates that when Dionysos was on the point of leading his force over from Asia into Europe, he concluded a treaty of friendship with Lykourgos, who was king of that part of Thrace which lies upon the Hellespont. Now when he had led the first of the Bacchantes over into a friendly land, as he thought, Lykourgos issued orders to his soldiers to fall upon them by night and to slay both Dionysos and all the Maenads, and Dionysos, learning of the plot from a man of the country who was called Charops, was struck with dismay, because his army was on the other side of the Hellespont and only a mere handful of his friends had crossed over with him. Consequently he sailed across secretly to his army, and then Lykourgos, they say, falling upon the Maenads in the city known as Nysion, slew them all, but Dionysos, bringing his forces over, conquered the Thracians in a battle, and taking Lykourgos alive put out his eyes and inflicted upon him every kind of outrage, and then crucified him.
Thereupon, out of gratitude to Charops for the aid the man had rendered him, Dionysos made over to him the kingdom of the Thracians and instructed him in the secret rites connected with the initiations; and Oiagros, the son of Charops, then took over both the kingdom and the initiatory rites which were handed down in the mysteries, the rites which afterwards Orpheus, the son of Oiagros, who was the superior of all men in natural gifts and education, learned from his father; Orpheus also made many changes in the practices and for that reason the rites which had been established by Dionysos were also called ‘Orphic.’
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 3.67.5
And in the same manner use was made of these Pelasgic letters by Orpheus and Pronapides who was the teacher of Homer and a gifted writer of songs; and also by Thymoetes, the son of Thymoetes, the son of Laomedon, who lived at the same time as Orpheus, wandered over many regions of the inhabited world, and penetrated to the western part of Libya as far as the ocean. He also visited Nysa, where the ancient natives of the city relate that Dionysos was reared there, and, after he had learned from the Nysaeans of the deeds of this god one and all, he composed the “Phrygian poem,” as it is called, wherein he made use of the archaic manner both of speech and of letters.
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.25.2-4
Since we have mentioned Orpheus it will not be inappropriate for us in passing to speak briefly about him. He was the son of Oeagrus, a Thracian by birth, and in culture and music and poesy he far surpassed all men of whom we have a record; for he composed a poem which was an object of wonder and excelled in its melody when it was sung. And his fame grew to such a degree that men believed that with his music he held a spell over both the wild beasts and the trees.
And after he had devoted his entire time to his education and had learned whatever the myths had to say about the gods, he journeyed to Egypt, where he further increased his knowledge and so became the greatest man among the Greeks both from his knowledge of the gods and for their rites, as well as for his poems and songs.
He also took part in the expedition of the Argonauts, and because of the love held for his wife he dared the amazing deed of descending into Hades, where he entranced Persephone by his melodious song and persuaded her to assist him in his desires and to allow him to bring up his dead wife from Hades, in this exploit resembling Dionysus; for the myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semelê from Hades, and that, sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyonê.
Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 5.64.4
But some historians, and Ephorus is one of them, record that the Idaean Daktyloi were in fact born on the Mount Ida which is in Phrygia and passed over to Europe together with Mygdon; and since they were wizards, they practiced charms and initiatory rites and mysteries and in the course of a sojourn in Samothrace they amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and mysteries to the Greeks.
Eratosthenes, Vat. Fragm. 24
When he descended to the underworld to recover his wife, Orpheus saw things there and ceased to honor Dionysos, through whom he had gained glory. Instead, he considered Helios the greatest of the gods, calling him Apollon.
Euripides, Alcestis 357-62
But if I had had the voice and music of Orpheus, so that, by bewitching the daughter of Demeter or her husband by my songs, I could lead you out of Hades, I would have descended, and neither the hound of Pluto, nor Charon at his oar, the transporter of souls, would have stopped me from bringing your life back to the light.
Euripides, Alcestis 962-72
I have flown aloft thanks to the Muse and although I have grappled with many doctrines, I have found nothing stronger than Necessity; no remedy in the Thracian writing tablets which the voice of Orpheus wrote down, nor in the drugs which Phoebus gave to the sons of Asclepius, cutting herbal antidotes for mortals who suffer much.
Euripides, Rhesos 941-948
And yet we sister Muses do special honour to thy city, thy land we chiefly haunt; yea, and Orpheus, own cousin of the dead whom thou hast slain, did for thee unfold those dark mysteries with their torch processions. Musaeus, too, thy holy citizen, of all men most advanced in lore, him did Phoebus with us sisters train.
Fulgenitus, Mythologies 2.12
He also took part in the expedition of the Argonauts, and because of the love held for his wife he dared the amazing deed of descending into Hades, where he entranced Persephone by his melodious song and persuaded her to assist him in his desires and to allow him to bring up his dead wife from Hades, in this exploit resembling Dionysus; for the myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semele from Hades, and that, sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyone.
Horace, Ars Poetica 421-24
While men still lived in the woods, Orpheus, the gods’ sacred medium, prevented bloodshed and vile customs, hence it’s said that he tamed tigers and raging lions.
Hyginus, Astronomica 1.2
The Lyre was put among the constellations for the following reason, as Eratosthenes says. Made at first by Mercury from a tortoise shell, it was given to Orpheus, son of Calliope and Oeagrus, who was passionately devoted to music. It is thought that by his skill he could charm even wild beasts to listen. When, grieving for his wife Eurydice, he descended to the Lower World, he praised the children of the gods in his song, all except Father Liber; him he overlooked and forgot, as Oeneus did Diana in sacrifice. Afterwards, then, when Orpheus was taking delight in song, seated, as many say, on Mt. Olympus, which separates Macedonia from Thrace, or on Pangaeum, as Eratosthenes says, Liber is said to have roused the Bacchanals against him. They slew him and dismembered his body. But others say that this happened because he had looked on the rites of Liber. The Muses gathered the scattered limbs and gave them burial, and as the greatest favour they could confer, they put as a memorial his lyre, pictured with stars, among the constellations. Apollo and Jove consented, for Orpheus had praised Apollo highly, and Jupiter granted this favour to his daughter.
Hyginus, Astronomica 2.7
Some also have said that Venus and Proserpina came to Jove for his decision, asking him to which of them he would grant Adonis. Calliope, the judge appointed by Jove, decided that each should posses him half of the year. But Venus, angry because she had not been granted what she thought was her right, stirred the women in Thrace by love, each to seek Orpheus for herself, so that they tore him limb from limb. His head, carried down from the mountain into the sea, was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos. It was taken up and buried by the people of Lesbos, and in return for this kindness, they have the reputation of being exceedingly skilled in the art of music. The lyre, as we have said, was put by the Muses among the stars.
The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century BCE lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton Orphēn (“Orpheus famous-of-name”)
Lucian, Against the Unlettered Bibliomaniac 11-12
When the Thracian women dismembered Orpheus, they say that his head, together with his lyre, having fallen into the Hebrus, was cast into the Black Gulf and that the head sailed on the lyre, singing a lament for Orpheus, as the story goes, whilst the lyre echoed in answer as the winds fell on the chords. Thus they approached Lesbos to the sound of music, and the Lesbians, taking them up, buried the head where their Baccheion now is and dedicated the lyre in the shrine of Apollo, where, for a long time, it was preserved.
After some time had passed, they say that Neanthus, the son of Pittacus the tyrant, learned these things about the lyre, that it enchanted beasts and plants and stones, and that it made music after Orpheus’ death even when no one laid a finger on it. He was overcome by the desire to possess it and after corrupting the priest with a lot of money, he persuaded him to give him the lyre of Orpheus and to put another similar lyre in its place. After he had taken it, he did not think it was safe to make use of it in broad daylight in the city, but during the night, having concealed it in the folds of his clothes, he went alone to the outskirts of the city and taking up the lyre struck the notes and threw the chords into confusion, since he was an unskilled and unmusical youth, but he expected that the lyre would produce divine songs, by which he would enchant and bewitch everyone and that, once he had inherited Orpheus’ music, he would be wholly blessed. Eventually, some dogs—of which there were plenty in the area—were drawn by the noise and tore him to pieces, so that in this respect at any rate he resembled Orpheus, and he summoned only dogs to him. Then it was seen clearly that it was not the lyre that had done the enchanting, but musical skill and song, which belonged to Orpheus alone as his outstanding gifts from his mother. But in other respects the lyre was just an object, no better than other stringed instruments.
Manilius, Astronomica 5.324
Next, with the rising of the Lyre, there floats forth from Ocean the shape of the tortoise-shell, which under the fingers of its heir gave forth sound only after death; once with it did Orpheus, Oeagrus’ son, impart sleep to waves, feeling to rocks, hearing to trees, tears to Pluto, and finally a limit to death.
Palaiphatos, Peri Apiston 33
Also false is the myth about Orpheus – that four-footed animals, snakes, birds and trees followed him as he played his lyre. Here is what I think happened: in Pieria frenzied female worshipers of Dionysos were tearing apart the bodies of sheep and goats and performing many other violent acts; they turned to the mountains to spend their days there. When they failed to return to their homes, the townspeople, fearing for the safety of their wives and daughters, summoned Orpheus and asked him to devise a plan to get the women down from the mountain. Orpheus performed appropriate sacrificial rites to the god Dionysos and then by playing his lyre led the frenzied Bacchants down from the mountain. But as the women descended they held in their hands various kinds of trees. To the men who watched on that occasion the pieces of wood seemed wondrous. So they said, ‘By playing his lyre Orpheus is bringing the very forest down from the mountain.’ And from this the myth was created.
Phanocles as preserved in Stobaeus, Eclogae 20.2.47, IV 461-2
Or how Thracian Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, loved Calaïs, the son of Boreas, with all his heart and often he would sit in the shady groves singing his heart’s desire; nor was his spirit at peace, but always his soul was consumed with sleepless cares as he gazed on fresh Calaïs. But the Bistonian women of evil devices killed Orpheus, having poured about him, their keen-edged swords sharpened, because he was the first to reveal male loves among the Thracians and did not recommend love of women. The women cut off his head with their bronze and straightaway they threw it in the sea with his Thracian lyre of tortoiseshell, fastening them together with a nail, so that both would be borne on the sea, drenched by the grey waves. The hoary sea brought them to land on holy Lesbos […] and thus the lyre’s clear ring held sway over the sea and the islands and the sea-soaked shores, where the men gave the clear-sounding head of Orpheus its funeral rites, and in the tomb they put the clear lyre, which used to persuade even dumb rocks and the hateful water of Phorcys. From that day on, songs and lovely lyre-playing have held sway over the island and it is the most songful of all islands. As for the warlike Thracian men, when they had learned the women’s savage deeds and dire grief had sunk into them all, they began the custom of tattooing their wives, so that having on their flesh signs of dark blue, they would not forget their hateful murder. And even now, the women pay reparations to the dead Orpheus because of that sin.
Orphic Argonautika 122ff
After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies. They heard me quickly, and breaking forth from the caverns of the gloomy abyss, Tisiphone, Allecto, and divine Megaira arrived, brandishing the light of death in their dry pine torches. Suddenly the pit blazed up, and the deadly fire crackled, and the unclean flame sent high its smoke. At once, on the far side of the fire, the terrible, fearful, savage goddesses arose. One had a body of iron. The dead call her Pandora. With her came one who takes on various shapes, having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hecate of Tartarus. From her left shoulder leapt a horse with a long mane. On her right should there could be seen a dog with a maddened face. The middle head had the shape of a lion [or snake] of wild form. In her hand she held a well-hilted sword. Pandora and Hecate circled the pit, moving this way and that, and the Furies leapt with them. Suddenly the wooden guardian statue of Artemis dropped its torches from its hands and raised its eyes to heaven. Her canine companions fawned. The bolts of the silver bars were loosened, and the beautiful gates of the thick walls opened; and the sacred grove within came into view. I crossed the threshold.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.1-145
While the poet of Thrace, with songs like these, drew to himself the trees, the souls of wild beasts, and the stones that followed him, see, how the frenzied Ciconian women, their breasts covered with animal skins, spy Orpheus from a hilltop, as he matches songs to the sounding strings. One of them, her hair scattered to the light breeze, called: ‘Behold, behold, this is the one who scorns us!’ and hurled her spear at the face of Apollo’s poet, as he was singing. Tipped with leaves, it marked him, without wounding. The next missile was a stone, that, thrown through the air, was itself overpowered by the harmony of voice and lyre, and fell at his feet, as though it were begging forgiveness for its mad audacity. But in fact the mindless attack mounted, without restraint, and mad fury ruled. All their missiles would have been frustrated by his song, but the huge clamour of the Berecyntian flutes of broken horn, the drums, and the breast-beating and howls of the Bacchantes, drowned the sound of the lyre. Then, finally, the stones grew red, with the blood of the poet, to whom they were deaf.
First, the innumerable birds, the snakes, and the procession of wild animals, still entranced by the voice of the singer, a mark of Orpheus’s triumph, were torn apart by the Maenads. Then they set their bloody hands on Orpheus, and gathered, like birds that spy the owl, the bird of night, wandering in the daylight, or as in the amphitheatre, on the morning of the staged events, on either side, a doomed stag, in the arena, is prey to the hounds. They rushed at the poet, and hurled their green-leaved thyrsi, made for a different use. Some threw clods of earth, some branches torn from the trees, and others flints. And so that their madness did not lack true weapons, by chance, oxen were turning the soil under the ploughshare, and, not far away from them, brawny farm workers were digging the solid earth, sweating hard to prepare it for use, who fled when they saw the throng, leaving their work tools behind. Hoes, heavy mattocks, and long rakes lay scattered through the empty fields. After catching these up, and ripping apart the oxen, that threatened them with their horns, the fierce women rushed back to kill the poet. As he stretched out his hands, speaking ineffectually for the first time ever, not affecting them in any way with his voice, the impious ones murdered him: and the spirit, breathed out through that mouth to which stones listened, and which was understood by the senses of wild creatures – O, God! – vanished down the wind.
The birds, lamenting, cried for you, Orpheus; the crowd of wild creatures; the hard flints; the trees that often gathered to your song, shedding their leaves, mourned you with bared crowns. They say the rivers, also, were swollen with their own tears, and the naiads and dryads, with dishevelled hair, put on sombre clothes. The poet’s limbs were strewn in different places: the head and the lyre you, Hebrus, received, and (a miracle!) floating in midstream, the lyre lamented mournfully; mournfully the lifeless tongue murmured; mournfully the banks echoed in reply. And now, carried onward to the sea, they left their native river-mouth and reached the shores of Lesbos, at Methymna. Here, as the head lay exposed on the alien sand, its moist hair dripping brine, a fierce snake attacked it. But at last Phoebus came, and prevented it, as it was about to bite, and turned the serpent’s gaping jaws to stone, and froze the mouth, wide open, as it was.
However, the god, Lyaeus, did not allow such wickedness by his followers to go unpunished. Grieved by the loss of the poet of his sacred rites, he immediately fastened down, with twisted roots, all the Thracian women who had seen the sin, since the path, that each one was on at that moment, gripped their toes and forced the tips into the solid ground. As a bird, when it is caught in a snare, set by a cunning wild-fowler, and feels itself held, tightens the knot by its movement, beating and flapping; so each of the women, planted, stuck fast, terrified, tried uselessly to run. But the pliant roots held her, and checked her, struggling. When she looked for where her toenails, toes and feet were, she saw the wood spreading over the curve of her leg, and, trying to strike her thighs with grieving hands, she beat on oak: her breasts turned to oak: her shoulders were oak. You would have thought the jointed arms were real branches, and your thought would not have been wrong.
This did not satisfy Bacchus. He left the fields themselves, and with a worthier band of followers sought out the vineyards of his own Mount Tmolus, and the River Pactolus, though at that time it was not a golden stream, nor envied for its valuable sands. His familiar cohorts, the satyrs and bacchantes accompanied him, but Silenus was absent. The Phrygian countrymen had taken him captive, stumbling with age and wine, bound him with garlands, and led him to King Midas, to whom, with Athenian Eumolpus, Orpheus of Thrace had taught the Bacchic rites.
When the king recognised him as a friend and companion of his worship, he joyfully led a celebration of the guest’s arrival, lasting ten days and nights on end. And now, on the eleventh day, Lucifer had seen off the train of distant stars, and the king with gladness came to the fields of Lydia, and restored Silenus to his young foster-child.
Then the god, happy at his foster-father’s return, gave Midas control over the choice of a gift, which was pleasing, but futile, since he was doomed to make poor use of his reward. ‘Make it so that whatever I touch with my body, turns to yellow gold,’ he said. Bacchus accepted his choice, and gave him the harmful gift, sad that he had not asked for anything better. The Berecyntian king departed happily, rejoicing in his bane, and testing his faith in its powers by touching things, and scarcely believing it when he broke off a green twig from the low foliage of the holm-oak: the twig was turned to gold. He picked up a stone from the ground: the stone also was pale gold. He touched a clod of earth, and by the power of touch, the clod became a nugget. He gathered the dry husks of corn: it was a golden harvest. He held an apple he had picked from a tree: you would think the Hesperides had given it to him. If he placed his fingers on the tall door-pillars, the pillars were seen to shine. When he washed his hands in clear water, the water flowing over his hands would have deceived Danaë.
His own mind could scarcely contain his expectations, dreaming of all things golden. As he was exulting, his servants set a table before him, heaped with cooked food, and loaves were not lacking. Then, indeed, if he touched the gift of Ceres with his hand, her gift hardened. If he tried, with eager bites, to tear the food, the food was covered with a yellow surface where his teeth touched. He mixed pure water with wine, the other gift of his benefactor, but molten gold could be seen trickling through his lips.
Dismayed by this strange misfortune, rich and unhappy, he tries to flee his riches, and hates what he wished for a moment ago. No abundance can relieve his famine: his throat is parched with burning thirst, and, justly, he is tortured by the hateful gold. Lifting his shining hands and arms to heaven, he cries out: ‘Father, Bacchus, forgive me! I have sinned. But have pity on me, I beg you, and save me from this costly evil!’ The will of the gods is kindly. Bacchus, when he confessed his fault, restored him, and took back what he had given in fulfilment of his promise. ‘So you do not remain coated with the gold you wished for so foolishly,’ he said, ‘go to the river by great Sardis, make your way up the bright ridge against the falling waters, till you come to the source of the stream, and plunge your head and body at the same moment into the foaming fountain, where it gushes out, and at the same time wash away your sin.’ The king went to the river as he was ordered: the golden virtue coloured the waters, and passed from his human body into the stream. Even now, gathering the grains of gold from the ancient vein, the fields harden, their soil soaked by the pale yellow waters.
From when Orpheus ____ made known his own poetry, the rape of Kore and the search of Demeter and the seed created by her and the multitude of those receiving the corn, 1135 years when Erechtheus was king of Athens. From when Eumolpus _____ instituted the mysteries in Eleusis and made known the works of the father of Mousaios, ______, when Erechtheus son of Pandion [was king of Athens].
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.4-12
By the side of Orpheus the Thracian stands a statue of Telete, and around him are beasts of stone and bronze listening to his singing. There are many untruths believed by the Greeks, one of which is that Orpheus was a son of the Muse Calliope, and not of the daughter of Pierus, that the beasts followed him fascinated by his songs, and that he went down alive to Hades to ask for his wife from the gods below. In my opinion Orpheus excelled his predecessors in the beauty of his verse, and reached a high degree of power because he was believed to have discovered mysteries, purification from sins, cures of diseases and means of averting divine wrath.
But they say that the women of the Thracians plotted his death, because he had persuaded their husbands to accompany him in his wanderings, but dared not carry out their intention through fear of their husbands. Flushed with wine, however, they dared the deed, and hereafter the custom of their men has been to march to battle drunk. Some say that Orpheus came to his end by being struck by a thunderbolt, hurled at him by the god because he revealed sayings in the mysteries to men who had not heard them before.
Others have said that his wife died before him, and that for her sake he came to Aornum in Thesprotis, where of old was an oracle of the dead. He thought, they say, that the soul of Eurydice followed him, but turning round he lost her, and committed suicide for grief. The Thracians say that such nightingales as nest on the grave of Orpheus sing more sweetly and louder than others.
The Macedonians who dwell in the district below Mount Pieria and the city of Dium say that it was here that Orpheus met his end at the hands of the women. Going from Dium along the road to the mountain, and advancing twenty stades, you come to a pillar on the right surmounted by a stone urn, which according to the natives contains the bones of Orpheus.
There is also a river called Helicon. After a course of seventy-five stades the stream hereupon disappears under the earth. After a gap of about twenty-two stades the water rises again, and under the name of Baphyra instead of Helicon flows into the sea as a navigable river. The people of Dium say that at first this river flowed on land throughout its course. But, they go on to say, the women who killed Orpheus wished to wash off in it the blood-stains, and thereat the river sank underground, so as not to lend its waters to cleanse manslaughter.
In Larisa I heard another story, how that on Olympus is a city Libethra, where the mountain faces, Macedonia, not far from which city is the tomb of Orpheus. The Libethrians, it is said, received out of Thrace an oracle from Dionysus, stating that when the sun should see the bones of Orpheus, then the city of Libethra would be destroyed by a boar. The citizens paid little regard to the oracle, thinking that no other beast was big or mighty enough to take their city, while a boar was bold rather than powerful.
But when it seemed good to the god the following events befell the citizens. About midday a shepherd was asleep leaning against the grave of Orpheus, and even as he slept he began to sing poetry of Orpheus in a loud and sweet voice. Those who were pasturing or tilling nearest to him left their several tasks and gathered together to hear the shepherd sing in his sleep. And jostling one another and striving who could get nearest the shepherd they overturned the pillar, the urn fell from it and broke, and the sun saw whatever was left of the bones of Orpheus.
Immediately when night came the god sent heavy rain, and the river Sys (Boar), one of the torrents about Olympus, on this occasion threw down the walls of Libethra, overturning sanctuaries of gods and houses of men, and drowning the inhabitants and all the animals in the city. When Libethra was now a city of ruin, the Macedonians in Dium, according to my friend of Larisa, carried the bones of Orpheus to their own country.
Whoever has devoted himself to the study of poetry knows that the hymns of Orpheus are all very short, and that the total number of them is not great. The Lycomidae know them and chant them over the ritual of the mysteries. For poetic beauty they may be said to come next to the hymns of Homer, while they have been even more honored by the gods.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.30.6
Turning our gaze again to the lower part of the picture we see, next after Patroklos, Orpheus sitting on what seems to be a sort of hill; he grasps with his left hand a harp, and with his right he touches a willow. It is the branches that he touches, and he is leaning against the tree. The grove seems to be that of Persephone, where grow, as Homer thought, black poplars and willows. The appearance of Orpheus is Greek, and neither his garb nor his head-gear is Thracian.
Philostratos, Life of Apollonios of Tyana 4.14
He also visited in passing the shrine of Orpheus when he had put in at Lesbos. And they tell that it was here that Orpheus once on a time loved to prophesy, before Apollon had turned his attention to him. For when the latter found that men no longer flocked to Gryneium for the sake of oracles nor to Klaros nor to Delphi where is the tripod of Apollon, and that Orpheus was the only oracle, his head having come from Thrace, he presented himself before the giver of oracles and said: “Cease to meddle with my affairs, for I have already put up long enough with your vaticinations.”
Philostratos, Heroikos 28.8
Since Lesbos was not very far from Troy, the Greeks sent emissaries to the oracle there. And the oracle came, I think, from Orpheus. For after the deed of the women, his head, coming to land on Lesbos, settled in a cleft on Lesbos and gave oracles in a hollow in the ground. Hence the Lesbians used it as an oracle and also all other Aeolians and the Ionians who were neighbours of the Aeolians. And oracles from this shrine were even sent to Babylon.
Pindar, fragment 128c 11-12
…and the son of Oeagrus, Orpheus of the golden sword.
Rufinus, Recognititions 10.30
Out of all Greek literature dedicated to the beginning of the universe, and out of all authors, two are most relevant: Hesiod and Orpheus. Their works permit a double interpretation – according to the written word, and according to its allegory. Those passages interpreted according to the written word attract crowds of sullen people – those following the allegory excite the admiration of philosophers and men of taste alike.
Seneca, Hercules Furens 569 ff
Orpheus had power to bend the ruthless Lords of the Shades by song and suppliant prayer, when he sought back his Eurydice. The art which had drawn the trees and birds and rocks, which had stayed the course of rivers, at whose sound the beasts had stopped to listen, soothes the underworld with unaccustomed strains, and rings out clearer in those unhearing realms.
Eurydice the Thracian brides bewail; even the gods, whom no tears can move, bewail her; and the Erinyes who with awful brows investigate men’s crimes and sift out ancient wrongs, as they sit in judgment bewail Eurydice.
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 3.631
The Muses came to sing the dirge at the funeral of Achilles and to Thetis spake Calliope, she in whose heart was steadfast wisdom throned: ‘From lamentation, Thetis, now forbear, and do not, in the frenzy of thy grief for thy lost son, provoke to wrath the Lord of Gods and men. Lo, even sons of Zeus, the Thunder-king, have perished, overborne by evil fate. Immortal though I be, mine own son Orpheus died, whose magic song drew all the forest-trees to follow him, and every craggy rock and river-stream, and blasts of winds shrill-piping stormy-breathed, and birds that dart through air on rushing wings. Yet I endured mine heavy sorrow: Gods ought not with anguished grief to vex their souls. Therefore make end of sorrow-stricken wail for thy brave child; for to the sons of earth minstrels shall chant his glory and his might, by mine and by my sisters’ inspiration, unto the end of time. Let not thy soul be crushed by dark grief, nor do thou lament like those frail mortal women.’ So in her wisdom spake Calliope.
Strabo, Geography 7.7
At the base of Olympus is the city of Dium, near which lies the village of Pimpleia. Here lived Orpheus, the Ciconian, it is said — a wizard who at first collected money from his music, together with his soothsaying and his celebration of the orgies connected with the mystic initiatory rites, but soon afterwards thought himself worthy of still greater things and procured for himself a throng of followers and power. Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him. And near here, also, is Leibethra.
Suidas s.v. Klymenos
Famous. Heard of. Haides is called this either because he calls everyone to himself or because he is the one who is heard and obeyed by everyone. In the Epigrams: “who enchants with his lyre the serious mind and unsoftened heart of the unsoftened Klymenos.” This is about Orpheus. And elsewhere: “for he already flits around the meadows in the presence of Klymenos and nearby the dewy blossoms of golden Persephone.”
Suidas s.v. Λεωκόριον
A heroon in the middle of the Kerameikos. For Leos son of Orpheus had a son named Kulanthos, and three daughters named Phasithea, Theope, and Euboule, whom the Athenians honored with the heroon after they had been sacrificed for the sake of the country while still virgins.
Suidas s.v. Orpheus
Orpheus, of Leibethra in Thrace (the town is below Pieria), son of Oiagros and Kalliope. Oiagros was in the fifth generation after Atlas, by Alkyone, one of his daughters. He lived 11 generations before the Trojan Wars, and they say he was a student of Linos. He lived for 9 generations, though some say 11. He wrote Triasms, but these are also said to be by Ion the tragedian. Among them are the so-called Hierostolica [‘Sacred Missives’]; Klêseis kosmikai [‘Cosmic Calls’]; Neoteuctica; Sacred Speeches in 24 Rhapsodies, but these are said to be by Theognetos the Thessalian, or by the Pythagorean Kerkops; Chrêsmous [‘Oracles’], which are attributed to Onomakritos;Teletas [‘Rites’], though these too are attributed to Onomakritos; among these is thePeri Lithôn Gluphês [‘Concerning Cutting on Stones’], entitled Eighty Stone; Sôtêria[‘Deliverances’], but these are said to be by Timokles the Syracusan or by Persinos the Milesian; Kratêras [‘Mixing Bowls’], said to be by Zopyros; Thronismoi of the Motherand Bakchica, said to be by Nikias of Elea; Eis Haidou Katabasin [‘Descent into Hades’], said to be by Herodikos of Perinthos; Peplon [‘Robe’] and Diktuon [‘Net’], also said to be by Zopyros of Heraclea, though others say Brontinos; an Onomasticon in epic hexameter, a Theogony in epic hexameter; Astronomy, Amokopia, Thuêpolikon,Ôiothutika or Ôioskopika in epic hexameter, Katazôstikon, Hymns, Korubantikon, andPhysika [‘Writings on Nature’], which they also attribute to Brontinos.
Virgil, Georgics 4.419-558
Here the Nymph stations the youth in ambush, away from the light; she herself, veiled in mist, stands aloof. And now the Dog Star, fiercely parching the thirsty Indians, was ablaze in heaven, and the fiery Sun had consumed half his course; the grass was withering and the hollow streams, in their parched throats, were scorched and baked by the rays down to the slime, when Proteus came from the waves, in quest of his wonted cave. About him the watery race of the vast deep gamboled, scattering afar the briny spray. The seals lay them down to sleep, here and there along the shore; he himself – even as at times the warder of a sheepfold on the hills, when Vesper brings the steers home from pasture, and the cry of bleating lambs whets the wolf’s hunger – sits down on a rock in the midst and counts their number. Soon as the chance came to Aristaeus, he scarce suffered the aged one to settle his weary limbs, before he burst upon him with a loud cry and surprised him in fetters as he lies. On his part, the seer forgets not his craft, but changes himself into all wondrous shapes – into flame and hideous beast and flowing river. But when no stratagem wins escape, vanquished he returns to himself, and at last speaks with human voice: “Why, who,” he cried, “most presumptuous of youths, bade you invade our home? Or what seek you hence?” But he: “You know, Proteus; you know of yourself, nor may one deceive you in aught, but give up your wish to deceive. Following the counsel of Heaven, we are come to seek hence an oracle for our weary fortunes.” So much he spoke. On this the seer, yielding at last to mighty force, rolled on him eyes ablaze with grey-green light, and grimly gnashing his teeth, thus opened his lips to tell of fate’s decrees:
“It is a god, no other, whose anger pursues you: Great is the crime you are paying for; this punishment, far less than you deserve, unhappy Orpheus arouses against you – did not Fate interpose – and rages implacably for the loss of his bride. She, in headlong flight along the river, if only she might escape you, saw not, doomed maiden, amid the deep grass the monstrous serpent at her feet that guarded the banks. But her sister band of Dryads filled the mountaintops with their cries; the towers of Rhodope wept, and the Pangaean heights, and the martial land or Rhesus, the Getae and Hebrus and Orithyia, Acte’s child. But he, solacing an aching heart with music from his hollow shell, sang of you, dear wife, sang of you to himself on the lonely shore, of you as day drew nigh, of you as day departed. He even passed through the jaws of Taenarum, the lofty portals of Dis, the grove that is murky with black terror, and made his way to the land of the dead with its fearful king and hearts no human prayers can soften. Stirred by his song, up from the lowest realms of Erebeus came the unsubstantial shades, the phantoms of those who lie in darkness, as many as the myriads of birds that shelter among the leaves when evening or a wintry shower drives them from the hills – women and men, and figures of great-souled heroes, their life now done, boys and girls unwed, and sons placed on the pyre before their fathers’ eyes. But round them are the black ooze and unsightly reeds of Cocytus, the unlovely mere enchaining them with its sluggish water, and Styx holding them fast within this ninefold circles. Still more: the very house of Death and deepest abysses of Hell were spellbound, and the Furies with livid snakes entwined in their hair; Cerberus stood agape and his triple jaws forgot to bark; the wind subsided, and Ixion’s wheel came to a stop.
“And now, as he retraced his steps, he had avoided all mischance, and the regained Eurydice was nearing the upper world, following behind – for that condition had Proserpine imposed – when a sudden frenzy seized Orpheus, unwary in his love, a frenzy meet for pardon, did Hell know how to pardon! He halted, and on the very verge of light, unmindful, alas, and vanquished in purpose, on Eurydice, now regained looked back! In that instant all his toil was split like water, the ruthless tyrant’s pact was broken and thrice a peal of thunder was heard amid the pools of Avernus. She cried: ‘What madness, Orpheus, what dreadful madness has brought disaster alike upon you and me, pour soul? See, again the cruel Fates call me back, and sleep seals my swimming eyes. And now farewell! I am borne away, covered in night’s vast pall, and stretching towards you strengthless hands, regained, alas! no more.’ She spoke, and straightway from his sight, like smoke mingling with thin air, vanished afar and saw him not again, as he vainly clutched at the shadows with so much left unsaid; nor did the ferryman of Orcus suffer him again to pass the barrier of the marsh. What could he do? Whither turn, twice robbed of his wife? With what tears move Hell? To what deities address his prayers? She indeed, already death-cold, was afloat in the Stygian barque. Of him they tell that for seven whole months day after day beneath a lofty crag beside lonely Strymon’s stream he wept, and in the shelter of cool dales unfolded his tale, charming tigers and drawing oaks with his song: even as a nightingale, mourning beneath a poplar’s shade, bewails her young ones’ loss, when a heartless ploughman, watching their resting place, has plucked them unfledged from the nest: the mother weeps all night long, as, perched on a branch, she repeats her piteous song and fills all around with plaintive lamentation. No thought of love or wedding song could bend his soul. Alone he roamed the frozen North, along the icy Tanais, and the fields ever wedded to Riphaean snows, mourning his lost Eurydice and Pluto’s cancelled boon; till the Ciconian women, resenting such devotion, in the midsts of their sacred rites and their midnight Bacchic orgies, tore the youth limb from limb and flung him over the far-spread plains. And even when Oeagrian Hebrus rolled in mid-current that head, severed from its marble neck, the disembodied voice and the tongue, now cold for ever, called with departing breath on Eurydice – ah, poor Eurydice! ‘Eurydice’ the banks re-echoed, all along the stream.”
Thus Proteus, and at a bound plunged into the deep sea, and where he plunged, whirled the water into foam beneath the eddy. Cyrene stayed, and straightway spoke to the startled youth: “You may dismiss from your mind the care that troubles it. This is the whole cause of the sickness, and hence it is that the Nymphs, with whom she used to tread the dance in the deep groves, have sent this wretched havoc on your bees. You must offer a suppliant’s gifts, sue for peace, and pay homage to the gentle maidens of the woods; for they will grant pardon to prayers, and relax their wrath. But first I will tell you in order the manner of your supplication. Pick out four choice bulls, of surpassing form, that now graze among your herds on the heights of green Lycaeus, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. For these set up four altars by the stately shrines of the goddesses, and drain the sacrificial blood from their throats, but leave the bodies of the steers within the leafy grove. Later, when the ninth Dawn displays her rising beams, you must offer to Orpheus funeral dues of Lethe’s poppies, slay a black ewe, and revisit the grove. Then with Eurydice appeased you should honour her with the slaying of a calf.”
Tarrying not, he straightway does his mother’s bidding. He comes to the shrine, raises the altars appointed, and leads there four choice bulls, of surpassing form, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. Later, when the ninth Dawn had ushered in her rising beams, he offers to Orpheus the funeral dues, and revisits the grove. But here they espy a portent, sudden and wondrous to tell – throughout the paunch, amid the molten flesh of the oxen, bees buzzing and swarming forth from the ruptured sides, then trailing in vast clouds, till at last on a treetop they stream together, and hang in clusters from the bending boughs.