|Parents||Oeagrus or Apollo and Calliope|
|Siblings||The Graces, Linus of Thrace|
|Spouse||Eurydice or Agriope|
Ancient Greek sources note Orpheus' Thracian origins. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music (the usual scene in Orpheus mosaics), his attempt to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld, and his death at the hands of the maenads of Dionysus who tired of his mourning for his late wife Eurydice. As an archetype of the inspired singer, Orpheus is one of the most significant figures in the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, portrayed or alluded to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting.
For the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the so-called "Orphic" mysteries. He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns and the Orphic Argonautica. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were regarded as oracles.
Several etymologies for the name Orpheus have been proposed. A probable suggestion is that it is derived from a hypothetical PIE root *h₃órbʰos 'orphan, servant, slave' and ultimately the verb root *h₃erbʰ- 'to change allegiance, status, ownership.' Cognates could include Greek: ὄρφνη (órphnē; 'darkness') and ὀρφανός (orphanós; 'fatherless, orphan') from which comes English 'orphan' by way of Latin.
It was believed by Aristotle that Orpheus never existed, but to all other ancient writers he was a real person, though living in remote antiquity. Most of them believed that he lived several generations before Homer. The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the 6th century BC lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton Orphēn ('Orpheus famous-of-name'). He is not mentioned in Homer or Hesiod. Most ancient sources accept his historical existence; Aristotle is an exception. Pindar calls Orpheus 'the father of songs' and identifies him as a son of the Thracian king Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope.
Greeks of the Classical age venerated Orpheus as the greatest of all poets and musicians; it was said that while Hermes had invented the lyre, Orpheus had perfected it. Poets such as Simonides of Ceos said that Orpheus' music and singing could charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers.
Orpheus was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; his music and song even had power over Hades. The earliest known reference to this descent to the underworld is the painting by Polygnotus (5th century BC) described by Pausanias (2nd century AD), where no mention is made of Eurydice. Euripides and Plato both refer to the story of his descent to recover his wife, but do not mention her name; a contemporary relief (about 400 BC) shows Orpheus and his wife with Hermes. The elegiac poet Hermesianax called her Agriope; and the first mention of her name in literature is in the Lament for Bion (1st century BC)
Some sources credit Orpheus with further gifts to mankind: medicine, which is more usually under the auspices of Asclepius (Aesculapius) or Apollo; writing, which is usually credited to Cadmus; and agriculture, where Orpheus assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus as giver of Demeter's knowledge to mankind. Orpheus was an augur and seer; he practiced magical arts and astrology, founded cults to Apollo and Dionysus and prescribed the mystery rites preserved in Orphic texts. Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts. Orpheus had a brother named Linus, who went to Thebes and became a Theban. He is claimed by Aristophanes and Horace to have taught cannibals to subsist on fruit, and to have made lions and tigers obedient to him. Horace believed, however, that Orpheus had only introduced order and civilization to savages.
Strabo (64 BC – c. AD 24) presents Orpheus as a mortal, who lived and died in a village close to Olympus. "Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him." He made money as a musician and "wizard" – Strabo uses αγυρτεύοντα (agurteúonta), also used by Sophocles in Oedipus Tyrannus to characterize Tiresias as a trickster with an excessive desire for possessions. Αγύρτης (agúrtēs) most often meant charlatan and always had a negative connotation. Pausanias writes of an unnamed Egyptian who considered Orpheus a μάγευσε (mágeuse), i. e., magician.[non-primary source needed]
"Orpheus...is repeatedly referred to by Euripides, in whom we find the first allusion to the connection of Orpheus with Dionysus and the infernal regions: he speaks of him as related to the Muses (Rhesus 944, 946); mentions the power of his song over rocks, trees, and wild beasts (Medea 543, Iphigenia in Aulis 1211, Bacchae 561, and a jocular allusion in Cyclops 646); refers to his charming the infernal powers (Alcestis 357); connects him with Bacchanalian orgies (Hippolytus 953); ascribes to him the origin of sacred mysteries (Rhesus 943), and places the scene of his activity among the forests of Olympus (Bacchae 561.)" "Euripides [also] brought Orpheus into his play Hypsipyle, which dealt with the Lemnian episode of the Argonautic voyage; Orpheus there acts as coxswain, and later as guardian in Thrace of Jason’s children by Hypsipyle."
"He is mentioned once only, but in an important passage, by Aristophanes (Frogs 1032), who enumerates, as the oldest poets, Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and Homer, and makes Orpheus the teacher of religious initiations and of abstinence from murder..."
"Plato (Apology, Protagoras),...frequently refers to Orpheus, his followers, and his works. He calls him the son of Oeagrus (Symposium), mentions him as a musician and inventor (Ion and Laws bk 3.), refers to the miraculous power of his lyre (Protagoras), and gives a singular version of the story of his descent into Hades: the gods, he says, imposed upon the poet, by showing him only a phantasm of his lost wife, because he had not the courage to die, like Alcestis, but contrived to enter Hades alive, and, as a further punishment for his cowardice, he met his death at the hands of women (Symposium.)"
"In the fifth and fourth centuries BC, there existed a collection of hexametric poems known as Orphic, which were the accepted authority of those who followed the Orphic way of life, and were by them attributed to Orpheus himself. Plato several times quotes lines from this collection; he refers in the Republic to a ‘mass of books of Musaeus and Orpheus’, and in the Laws to the hymns of Thamyris and Orpheus, while in the Ion he groups Orpheus with Musaeus and Homer as the source of inspiration of epic poets and elocutionists. Euripides in the Hippolytus makes Theseus speak of the ‘turgid outpourings of many treatises’, which have led his son to follow Orpheus and adopt the Bacchic religion. Alexis, the fourth century comic poet, depicting Linus offering a choice of books to Heracles, mentions ‘Orpheus, Hesiod, tragedies, Choerilus, Homer, Epicharmus’. Aristotle did not believe that the poems were by Orpheus; he speaks of the ‘so-called Orphic epic’, and Philoponus (seventh century AD) commenting on this expression, says that in the De Philosophia (now lost) Aristotle directly stated his opinion that the poems were not by Orpheus. Philoponus adds his own view that the doctrines were put into epic verse by Onomacritus. Aristotle when quoting the Orphic cosmological doctrines attributes them to ‘the theologoi’ ‘the ancient poets’, ‘those who first theorized about the gods ’.
Nothing is known of any ancient Orphic writings except a reference in the Alcestis of Euripides to certain ‘Thracian tablets’ which ‘the voice of Orpheus had inscribed’ with pharmaceutical lore. The Scholiast, commenting on the passage, says that there exist on Mt. Haemus certain writings of Orpheus on tablets. There is also a reference, not mentioning Orpheus by name, in the pseudo-Platonic Axiochus, where it is said that the fate of the soul in Hades is described on certain bronze tablets which two seers had brought to Delos from the land of the Hyperboreans. This is the only evidence for any ancient Orphic writings. Aelian (second century AD) gave the chief reason against believing in them: at the time when Orpheus is said to have lived, the Thracians knew nothing about writing.
It came therefore to be believed that Orpheus taught, but left no writings, and that the epic poetry attributed to him was written in the sixth century BC by Onomacritus. Onomacritus was banished from Athens by Hipparchus for inserting something of his own into an oracle of Musaeus when entrusted with the editing of his poems. It may have been Aristotle who first suggested, in the lost De Philosophia, that Onomacritus also wrote the so-called Orphic epic poems. By the time when the Orphic writings began to be freely quoted by Christian and Neo-Platonist writers, the theory of the authorship of Onomacritus was accepted by many.
It is believed, however, that the Orphic literature current in the time of the Neo-Platonists (third century AD), and quoted by them as the authority for Orphic doctrines, was a collection of writings of different periods and varying outlook, something like that of the Bible. The earliest of these were composed in the sixth century by Onomacritus from genuine Orphic tradition; the latest which have survived, namely the Voyage of the Argonauts, and the Hymns to various deities, cannot have been put together in their present form until the beginning of the Christian era, and are probably to be dated some time between the second and fourth centuries AD
The Neo-Platonists quote the Orphic poems in their defence against Christianity, because Plato used poems which he believed to be Orphic. It is believed that in the collection of writings which they used there were several versions, each of which gave a slightly different account of the origin of the universe, of gods and men, and perhaps of the correct way of life, with the rewards and punishments attached thereto. Three principal versions are recognized by modern scholars; all three are mentioned by the Neo-Platonist Damascius (fifth-sixth centuries AD). These are:
- Rhapsodiae, epic lays, said by Damascius to give the usual Orphic theology. These are mentioned also in Suidas’ list, as ‘sacred discourses in twenty-four lays’, though he attributes this work to Theognetus the Thessalian (unknown) or Cercops the Pythagorean. This is now referred to as the Rhapsodic Theogony. It is the version usually quoted by ancient authorities, but was not the one used by Plato, and is therefore some-times thought to have been composed after he wrote; this question cannot at present be decided.
- An Orphic Theogony given by Aristotle’s pupil Eudemus.
- An Orphic Theogony ‘according to Hieronymus and Hellanicus’. Other versions were: a Theogony put into the mouth of Orpheus by Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica an Orphic Theogony quoted by Alexander of Aphrodisias; and a Theogony in Clement of Rome, not specified as Orphic, but belonging to the same school of thought.
A long list of Orphic works is given in Suidas (tenth century AD); but most of these are there attributed to other authors. They are:
- Triagmoi, attributed to the tragic poet Ion, in which there was said to be a chapter called Sacred Vestments, or Cosmic Invocations. The title Triagmoi apparently referred to ‘the Orphic tripod of three elements, earth, water, fire’, referred to by Ausonius and Galen; the latter said that this doctrine was given by Onomacritus in his Orphic poems.
- The Sacred Discourses, already discussed, usually identified with the Rhapsodiae.
- Oracles and Rites, attributed to Onomacritus.
- Aids to Salvation, ascribed to Timocles of Syracuse or Persinus of Miletus; both the work and these writers are otherwise unknown.
- Mixing-bowls, ascribed to Zopyrus of Heracleia; and The Robe and The Net, also ascribed to Zopyrus, or to Brontinus the Pythagorean. The Net referred to is the net of the body, so called in Orphic literature. To Brontinus was also ascribed a Physica, otherwise unknown.
- Enthronement of the Mother, and Bacchic Rites, ascribed to Nicias of Elea, of whom nothing else is known. ‘Enthronement’ was part of the rite of initiation practised by the Corybantes, the worshippers of Rhea or Cybele; the person to be initiated was seated on a high chair, and the celebrants danced round him in a ring. The title therefore apparently means ‘the enthronement-ceremonies as practised by the worshippers of the Great Mother’. Connected, perhaps identical with, this was a treatise on Corybantic Rites, quoted by the late Orphic poem Argonautica.
- A Descent into Hades, ascribed to Herodicus of Perinthus, or to Cercops the Pythagorean, or to the unknown Prodicus of Samos.
- Other treatises were: an Astronomy or Astrology, otherwise unknown; Sacrificial Rites, doubtless giving rules for bloodless sacrifices; Divination by means of sand, Divination by means of eggs; on Temple-building (otherwise unknown); On the girding on of Sacred Robes; and On Stones, said to contain a chapter on the carving of precious stones entitled The Eighty Stones; a version of this work, of late date, survives. It treats of the properties of stones, precious and ordinary, and their uses in divination. The Orphic Hymns are also mentioned in Suidas’ list, and a Theogony in 1200 verses, perhaps one of those versions which differed from the Rhapsodiae. There was also an Orphic Word-book, doubtless a glossary of the special terms used in the cult, some of which were strange because of their allegorical usage, others because of their antiquity; this also was said to have been in verse.
Such was the list of works finally classed as Orphic writings, though it was known in early times that many of them were the works of Pythagoreans and other writers. Herodotus said of the so-called ‘Orphic and Bacchic rites’ that they were actually ‘Egyptian and Pythagorean’; and Ion of Chios said that Pythagoras himself attributed some of his writings to Orpheus. Others, as has been said, regarded the earliest epics as the work of Onomacritus. The original Hymns were thought to have been composed by Orpheus, and written down, with emendations, by Musaeus. There were also other writers named Orpheus: to one, of Croton, said to be a contemporary and associate of Peisistratus, were attributed two epic poems: an Argonautica, and The Twelve-year Cycle (probably astrological); to another, Orpheus of Camarina, an epic Descent into Hades. These namesakes are probably inventions."
According to Apollodorus and a fragment of Pindar, Orpheus' father was Oeagrus, a Thracian king, or, according to another version of the story, the god Apollo. His mother was (1) the muse Calliope, (2) her sister Polymnia, (3) a daughter of Pierus, son of Makednos or (4) lastly of Menippe, daughter of Thamyris. According to Tzetzes, he was from Bisaltia. His birthplace and place of residence was Pimpleia close to the Olympus. Strabo mentions that he lived in Pimpleia. According to the epic poem Argonautica, Pimpleia was the location of Oeagrus' and Calliope's wedding. While living with his mother and her eight beautiful sisters in Parnassus, he met Apollo, who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo, as the god of music, gave Orpheus a golden lyre and taught him to play it. Orpheus' mother taught him to make verses for singing. He is also said to have studied in Egypt.
Orpheus is said to have established the worship of Hecate in Aegina. In Laconia Orpheus is said to have brought the worship of Demeter Chthonia and that of the Κόρες Σωτείρας (Kóres Sōteíras; 'Saviour Maidens').[clarification needed] Also in Taygetos a wooden image of Orpheus was said to have been kept by Pelasgians in the sanctuary of the Eleusinian Demeter.
Travelling as an ArgonautEdit
The Argonautica (Ἀργοναυτικά) is a Greek epic poem written by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC. Orpheus took part in this adventure and used his skills to aid his companions. Chiron told Jason that without the aid of Orpheus, the Argonauts would never be able to pass the Sirens—the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus in Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. The Sirens lived on three small, rocky islands called Sirenum scopuli and sang beautiful songs that enticed sailors to come to them, which resulted in the crashing of their ships into the islands. When Orpheus heard their voices, he drew his lyre and played music that was louder and more beautiful, drowning out the Sirens' bewitching songs. According to 3rd century BC Hellenistic elegiac poet Phanocles, Orpheus loved the young Argonaut Calais, "the son of Boreas, with all his heart, and went often in shaded groves still singing of his desire, nor was his heart at rest. But always, sleepless cares wasted his spirits as he looked at fresh Calais."
Death of EurydiceEdit
The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (sometimes referred to as Euridice and also known as Argiope). While walking among her people, the Cicones, in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice was set upon by a satyr. In her efforts to escape the satyr, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld. His music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, 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. He set off with Eurydice following, and, in his doubt, as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, 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 (by the time of Virgil's Georgics, the myth has Aristaeus chasing Eurydice when she was bitten by a serpent) and the tragic outcome. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus' visit to the underworld in a more negative light; according to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium, the infernal gods only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. In fact, Plato's representation of Orpheus is that of a coward, as instead of choosing to die in order to be with the one he loved, he instead mocked the gods by trying to go to Hades to bring her back alive. Since his love was not "true"—he did not want to die for love—he was actually punished by the gods, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld, and then by being killed by women. In Ovid's account, however, Eurydice's death by a snake bite is incurred while she was dancing with naiads on her wedding day.
Virgil wrote in his poem that Dryads wept from Epirus and Hebrus up to the land of the Getae (north east Danube valley) and even describes him wandering into Hyperborea and Tanais (ancient Greek city in the Don river delta) due to his grief.
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. According to the theories of poet Robert Graves, the myth may have been derived from another Orpheus legend, in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.
The myth theme of not looking back, an essential precaution in Jason's raising of chthonic Brimo Hekate under Medea's guidance, is reflected in the Biblical story of Lot's wife when escaping from Sodom. 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.
According to a Late Antique summary of Aeschylus' lost play Bassarids, Orpheus, towards the end of his life, disdained the worship of all gods except the sun, whom he called Apollo. One early morning he went to the oracle of Dionysus at Mount Pangaion to salute his god at dawn, but was ripped to shreds by Thracian Maenads for not honoring his previous patron (Dionysus) and buried in Pieria. Here his death is analogous with that of Pentheus, who was also torn to pieces by Maenads; and it has been speculated that the Orphic mystery cult regarded Orpheus as a parallel figure to or even an incarnation of Dionysus. Both made similar journeys into Hades, and Dionysus Zagreus suffered an identical death.Pausanias writes that Orpheus was buried in Dion and that he met his death there. He writes that the river Helicon sank underground when the women that killed Orpheus tried to wash off their blood-stained hands in its waters. Other legends claim that Orpheus became a follower of Dionysus and spread his cult across the land. In this version of the legend, it is said that Orpheus was torn to shreds by the women of Thrace for his inattention.
Ovid recounts that Orpheus ...
had abstained from the love of women, either because things ended badly for him, or because he had sworn to do so. Yet, many felt a desire to be joined with the poet, and many grieved at rejection. Indeed, he was the first of the Thracian people to transfer his affection to young boys and enjoy their brief springtime, and early flowering this side of manhood.— Ovid. trans. A. S. Kline, Ovid: The Metamorphoses, Book X
Feeling spurned by Orpheus for taking only male lovers (eromenoi), the Ciconian women, followers of Dionysus, 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 women tore him to pieces during the frenzy of their Bacchic orgies. In Albrecht Dürer's drawing of Orpheus' death, based on an original, now lost, by Andrea Mantegna, a ribbon high in the tree above him is lettered Orfeus der erst puseran ("Orpheus, the first pederast").
His head and lyre, still singing mournful songs, floated down the River Hebrus into the sea, after which the winds and waves carried them to the island of Lesbos, at the city of Methymna; there, 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. In addition to the people of Lesbos, Greeks from Ionia and Aetolia consulted the oracle, and his reputation spread as far as Babylon.
Orpheus' 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. After the river Sys flooded Leibethra, the Macedonians took his bones to Dion. Orpheus' soul returned to the underworld, to the fields of the Blessed, where he was reunited at last with his beloved Eurydice.
Another legend places his tomb at Dion, near Pydna in Macedon. In another version of the myth, Orpheus travels to Aornum in Thesprotia, Epirus to an old oracle for the dead. In the end Orpheus commits suicide from his grief unable to find Eurydice.
"Others said that he was the victim of a thunderbolt."
Orphic poems and ritesEdit
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 works survived whole: the Orphic Hymns, a set of 87 poems, possibly composed at some point in the second or third century, and the epic poem Argonautica, composed somewhere between the fourth and sixth centuries. Earlier Orphic literature, which may date back as far as the sixth century BC, survives only in papyrus fragments or in quotations. Some of the earliest fragments may have been composed by Onomacritus.
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. Those who were especially devoted to these rituals 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.
The historian William Mitford wrote in 1784 that the very earliest form of a higher and more 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.
The Orpheus motif has permeated Western culture and has been used as a theme in all art forms. Early examples include the Breton lai Sir Orfeo from the early 13th century and musical interpretations like Jacapo Peri's Euridice (1600, though titled with his wife's name, the libretto is based entirely upon books X and XI of Ovid's Metamorphoses and therefore Orpheus' viewpoint is predominant). Subsequent operatic interpretations include Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607), Luigi Rossi's L'Orfeo (1647), Marc-Antoine Charpentier's La descente d'Orphée aux enfers H 488, 1686 (he wrote also a cantata, Orphée descendant aux enfers H 471, 1683), Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (1762), Joseph Haydn's last opera L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (1791), Franz Liszt's symphonic poem Orpheus (1854), Igor Stravinsky's ballet Orpheus (1948) and two operas by Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus (1973–1984) and The Corridor (2009). The Bulgarian Rousse State Opera commissioned and performed Orpheus: A Masque by John Robertson (2015).
Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (1922) are based on the Orpheus myth. Poul Anderson's Hugo Award-winning novelette "Goat Song", published in 1972, is a retelling of the story of Orpheus in a science fiction setting. Some feminist interpretations of the myth give Eurydice greater weight. Margaret Atwood's Orpheus and Eurydice Cycle (1976–86) deals with the myth, and gives Eurydice a more prominent voice. Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice likewise presents the story of Orpheus' descent to the underworld from Eurydice's perspective. Ruhl removes Orpheus from the center of the story by pairing their romantic love with the paternal love of Eurydice's dead father. David Almond's 2014 novel, A Song for Ella Grey, was inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2015. The 2014 novel Orfeo by Richard Powers is based on Orpheus.[clarification needed]
Dino Buzzati adapted the Orpheus motif in his graphic novel Poem Strip (1969). Neil Gaiman depicts his version of Orpheus in The Sandman comics series (1989–2015). Gaiman's Orpheus is the son of Oneiros (the Dream Lord Morpheus) and the muse Calliope.
Film and stageEdit
Vinicius de Moraes' play Orfeu da Conceição (1956), later adapted by Marcel Camus in the 1959 film Black Orpheus, tells the story in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy – The Blood of a Poet (1930), Orpheus (1950) and Testament of Orpheus (1959) – was filmed over thirty years, and is based in many ways on the story. Philip Glass adapted the second film into the chamber opera Orphée (1991), part of an homage triptych to Cocteau. Nikos Nikolaidis' 1975 film Evrydiki BA 2O37 is an innovative perspective on the classic Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Anaïs Mitchell's 2010 folk opera musical Hadestown retells the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice with a soundtrack inspired by American blues and jazz, portraying Hades as the brutal work-boss of an underground mining city. Mitchell, together with director Rachel Chavkin, later adapted her album into a multiple Tony award winning stage musical.
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Because of the pervasiveness of the Orpheus myth, many interpretations are in conversation with previous interpretations as well: Pina Bausch's dance-opera Orpheus und Euridike displays original choreography set to Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Baz Luhrmann, in DVD commentaries for his 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, characterizes the film as, in part, a tale of an Orphic hero (in this case a songwriter) who embarks upon a visit to the underworld (in this case the demi-monde around Paris' Montmartre) in search of his fortune and ultimately to attempt the rescue of his doomed love. The film adapts a widely known piece from Jacques Offenbach's comedic operetta Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld), identified with the once-popular can-can music hall dance. Offenbach's operatic work had itself parodied the classical tale of Orpheus' attempted rescue of Eurydice from Pluto (Hades). Gavin Bryars' music for Édouard Lock's full length ballet Dido and Orfeo (2011) reworks music from the operas Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) and Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck) for a small ensemble of saxophone, viola, cello and piano. In 2019, Sara Bareilles released her sixth studio album Amidst the Chaos which features a song titled "Orpheus".
- Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (Routledge, 2007), p. 167, while taking note of depictions in Greek art, particularly vase painting, that show Orpheus attired as a Greek, often in contrast to those in Thracian dress around him.
- Geoffrey Miles, Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology (Routledge, 1999), p. 54ff.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Corinth, 2.30.2
- Cf. "Ὀρφανός" in: Etymological Dictionary of Greek, ed. Robert S. P. Beekes (Ph. D. 1969). First published online October 2010. Consulted online on 03/05/2018.
- Cobb, Noel. Archetypal Imagination, Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, p. 240. ISBN 0-940262-47-9
- Freiert, William K. (1991), Pozzi, Dora Carlisky; Wickersham, John M. (eds.), "Orpheus: A Fugue on the Polis", Myth and the Polis, Cornell University Press: 46, ISBN 0-8014-2473-9
- Miles, Geoffrey. Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology, London: Routledge, 1999, p. 57. ISBN 0-415-14755-7
- Freeman, Kathleen (1946). The Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 1.
- Ibycus, Fragments 17 (Diehl); M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 3.
- Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Harvard University Press (1948), p. 1.
- Aristotle (1952). W. D. Ross; John Alexander Smith (eds.). The Works of Aristotle. XII – Fragments. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 80.
- Pindar, Pythian Odes, 4.4.315 
- Pindar fragment 126.9.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.3.2, Argonautica 1.23, and the Orphic Hymn 24.12.
- "Attributed to the Painter of London E 497: Bell-krater (24.97.30) – Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – The Metropolitan Museum of Art". metmuseum.org.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.3.2; Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis, 1212 and The Bacchae, 562; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11: "with his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace, allured the trees, the savage animals, and even the insensate rocks, to follow him>"
- Others to brave the nekyia were Odysseus, Theseus and Heracles; Perseus also overcame Medusa in a chthonic setting.
- A single literary epitaph, attributed to the sophist Alcidamas, credits Orpheus with the invention of writing. See Ivan Mortimer Linforth, "Two Notes on the Legend of Orpheus", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 62, (1931):5–17).
- Apollodorus (Pseudo Apollodorus), Library and Epitome, 1.3.2. "Orpheus also invented the mysteries of Dionysus, and having been torn in pieces by the Maenads he is buried in Pieria."
- Apollonius, Argonautica, passim.
- Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, 2.4.9, This Linus was a brother of Orpheus; he came to Thebes and became a Theban.
- William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 44.
- Strabo, Geography, Book 7, Chapter 7: "At the base of Olympus is a city Dium. And it has a village near by, 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."
- Gregory Nagy, Archaic Period (Greek Literature, Volume 2), ISBN 0-8153-3683-7, p. 46.
- Index in Eustathii commentarios in Homeri Iliadem et Odysseam by Matthaeus Devarius, p. 8.
- Pausanias, The Description of Greece, 6.20.18: "A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon."
- Smith, William (1870). Dictionary of Greek And Roman Biography And Mythology. 3. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. p. 60. ark:/13960/t23b60t0r.
- Freeman, Kathleen (1946). The Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 4–8. ark:/13960/t9z088h5f.
- Son of Oeagrus or Apollo and Calliope: Apollodorus 1.3.1.
- Pindar, frag. 126, line 9, noted in Kerényi 1959: 280.
- Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.23 with Asclepiades as the authority
- In Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 9.30.4, the author claimed that "... 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."
- Tzetzes, Chiliades 1.12 line 306
- John Tzetzes. Chiliades, 1.12 line 305
- William Keith Guthrie and L. Alderlink, Orpheus and Greek Religion (Mythos Books), 1993, ISBN 0-691-02499-5, p. 61 f.: "[…] is a city Dion. Near it is a village called Pimpleia. It was there they say that Orpheus the Kikonian lived."
- Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Mythos Books), 1991, ISBN 0-691-01514-7, p. 469: "[…] near the city of Dium is a village called Pimpleia where Orpheus lived."
- The Argonautica, book I (ll. 23–34), "First then let us name Orpheus whom once Calliope bare, it is said, wedded to Thracian Oeagrus, near the Pimpleian height."
- Hoopes And Evslin, The Greek Gods, ISBN 0-590-44110-8, ISBN 0-590-44110-8, 1995, p. 77: "His father was a Thracian king; his mother the muse Calliope. For a while he lived on Parnassus with his mother and his eight beautiful aunts and there met Apollo who was courting the laughing muse Thalia. Apollo was taken with Orpheus, gave him his little golden lyre and taught him to play. And his mother taught him to make verses for singing."
- Diodorus Siculus, 4.25.2–4.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Corinth, 2.30.1 : "Of the gods, the Aeginetans worship most Hecate, in whose honor every year they celebrate mystic rites which, they say, Orpheus the Thracian established among them. Within the enclosure is a temple; its wooden image is the work of Myron, and it has one face and one body. It was Alcamenes, in my opinion, who first made three images of Hecate attached to one another, a figure called by the Athenians Epipurgidia (on the Tower); it stands beside the temple of the Wingless Victory."
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.14.1,: "[…] but the wooden image of Thetis is guarded in secret. The cult of Demeter Chthonia (of the Lower World) the Lacedaemonians say was handed on to them by Orpheus, but in my opinion it was because of the sanctuary in Hermione that the Lacedaemonians also began to worship Demeter Chthonia. The Spartans have also a sanctuary of Serapis, the newest sanctuary in the city, and one of Zeus surnamed Olympian."
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.13.1: "Opposite the Olympian Aphrodite the Lacedaemonians have a temple of the Saviour Maid. Some say that it was made by Orpheus the Thracian, others by Abairis when he had come from the Hyperboreans."
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia, 3.20.1,: "Between Taletum and Euoras is a place they name Therae, where they say Leto from the Peaks of Taygetus […] is a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Eleusinian. Here according to the Lacedaemonian story Heracles was hidden by Asclepius while he was being healed of a wound. In the sanctuary is a wooden image of Orpheus, a work, they say, of Pelasgians."
- Diodorus Siculus, 4.25.1–2.
- Katherine Crawford (2010). The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance. Cambridge University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-521-76989-1.
- John Block Friedman (2000-05-01). Orpheus in the Middle Ages. Syracuse University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8156-2825-5.
- M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics, State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 9.
- Symposium 179d.
- "The Georgics of Virgil: Fourth Book". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books Ltd., London (1955), Volume 1, Chapter 28, "Orpheus", p. 115.
- Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, book III: "Let no footfall or barking of dogs cause you to turn around, lest you ruin everything", Medea warns Jason; after the dread rite, "The son of Aison was seized by fear, but even so he did not turn round..." (Richard Hunter, translator).
- Wilson, N., Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, Routledge, 2013, ISBN 113678800X, p. 702: "His grave and cult belong not to Thrace but to Pierian Macedonia, northeast of Mount Olympus, a region that the Thracians had once inhabited
- Classical Mythology, p. 279, Mark P. O. Morford, Robert J. Lenardon.
- Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, volume 88, p. 211
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1. 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.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1. 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
- ""Orpheus" The Columbia Encyclopedia". search.credoreference.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
- Patricia Jane Johnson (2008). Ovid Before Exile: Art and Punishment in the Metamorphoses. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-299-22400-4. "by the Ciconian women."
- Ovid, trans. A. S. Kline (2000). Ovid: The Metamorphoses. Book XI.
- Heinrich Wölfflin (2013). Drawings of Albrecht Dürer. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-486-14090-2.
- Carlos Parada "His head fell into the sea and was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos where the Lesbians buried it, and for having done this the Lesbians have the reputation of being skilled in music."
- Recently a cave was identified as the oracle of Orpheus nearby the modern village of Antissa; see Harissis H. V. et al. "The Spelios of Antissa; The oracle of Orpheus in Lesvos" Archaiologia kai Technes 2002; 83:68–73 (article in Greek with English abstract)
- Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 
- William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers". p. 46.
- The Writing of Orpheus: Greek Myth in Cultural Context by Marcele Detienne, ISBN 0-8018-6954-4, p. 161
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1  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.
- 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.Pausanias, Description of Greece, Boeotia, 9.30.1.
- Freeman, Kathleen (1946). The Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 3. ark:/13960/t9z088h5f.
- Freeman, Kathleen. Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, Harvard University Press (1948), p. 1.
- Plato. The Republic 364c–d.
- Moore, p. 56: "the use of eggs and beans was forbidden, for these articles were associated with the worship of the dead".
- Janko, Richard (2006). Tsantsanoglou, K.; Parássoglou, G.M.; Kouremenos, T. (eds.). "The Derveni Papyrus". Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Studi e testi per il 'Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini'. Florence: Olschki. 13.
- Mitford, p. 89: "But the very early inhabitants of Greece had a religion far less degenerated from original purity. To this curious and interesting fact, abundant testimonies remain. They occur in those poems, of uncertain origin and uncertain date, but unquestionably of great antiquity, which are called the poems of Orpheus or rather the Orphic poems [Note: Particularly in the Hymn to Jupiter, quoted by Aristotle in the seventh chapter of his Treatise on the World]; and they are found scattered among the writings of the philosophers and historians." The idea of a religion "degenerated from original purity" expressed an Enlightenment idealisation of an assumed primitive state that is one connotation of "primitivism" in the history of ideas.
- Guthrie, pp. 17–18. "As founder of mystery-religions, Orpheus was first to reveal to men the meaning of the rites of initiation (teletai). We read of this in both Plato and Aristophanes (Aristophanes, Frogs, 1032; Plato, Republic, 364e, a passage which suggests that literary authority was made to take the responsibility for the rites)". Guthrie goes on to write about "This less worthy but certainly popular side of Orphism is represented for us again by the charms or incantations of Orpheus which we may also read of as early as the fifth century. Our authority is Euripides. We have already noticed the 'charm on the Thracian tablets' in the Alcestis and in Cyclops one of the lazy and frightened Satyrs, unwilling to help Odysseus in the task of driving the burning stake into the single eye of the giant, exclaims: 'But I know a spell of Orpheus, a fine one, which will make the brand step up of its own accord to burn this one-eyed son of Earth' (Euripides, Cyclops 646 = Kern, test. 83)."
- Rousse State Opera. "Световна премиера на операта „Орфей” от канадския композитор Джон Робъртсън в МФ „Сцена край реката”-Русе" ("World Premiere of the opera "Orpheus" by Canadian composer John Robertson"). Retrieved 22 February 2016 (in Bulgarian).
- Isherwood, Charles (2007-06-19). "The Power of Memory to Triumph Over Death". New York Times.
- Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman #50.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke I, iii, 2; ix, 16 & 25;
- Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica I, 23–34; IV, 891–909.
- Bernabé, Albertus (ed.), Orphicorum et Orphicis similium testimonia et fragmenta. Poetae Epici Graeci. Pars II. Fasc. 1. Bibliotheca Teubneriana, München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2004. ISBN 3-598-71707-5. review of this book
- Guthrie, William Keith Chambers, Orpheus and Greek Religion: a Study of the Orphic Movement, 1935.
- Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson.
- Mitford, William, The History of Greece, 1784. Cf. v.1, Chapter II, Religion of the Early Greeks.
- Moore, Clifford H., Religious Thought of the Greeks, 1916. Kessinger Publishing (April 2003). ISBN 978-0-7661-5130-7
- Ossoli, Margaret Fuller, Orpheus, a sonnet about his trip to the underworld.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 1–105; XI, 1–66;
- Christoph Riedweg, "Orfeo", in: S. Settis (a cura di), I Greci: Storia Cultura Arte Società, volume II, 1, Turin 1996, 1251–1280.
- Christoph Riedweg, "Orpheus oder die Magie der musiké. Antike Variationen eines einflussreichen Mythos", in: Th. Fuhrer / P. Michel / P. Stotz (Hgg.), Geschichten und ihre Geschichte, Basel 2004, 37–66.
- Rohde, Erwin, Psyche, 1925. cf. Chapter 10, The Orphics.
- Segal, Charles (1989). Orpheus : The Myth of the Poet. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-3708-1.
- Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Orpheus"
- Taylor, Thomas [translator], The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus, 1896.
- West, Martin L., The Orphic Poems, 1983. There is a sub-thesis in this work that early Greek religion was heavily influenced by Central Asian shamanistic practices. One major point of contact was the ancient Crimean city of Olbia.
- Wise, R. Todd, A Neocomparative Examination of the Orpheus Myth As Found in the Native American and European Traditions, 1998. UMI. The thesis explores Orpheus as a single mythic structure present in traditions that extend from antiquity to contemporary times and across cultural contexts.
- Wroe, Ann, Orpheus: The Song of Life, The Overlook Press, New York, 2012.
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- Greek Mythology Link, Orpheus
- Theoi Project: online text: The Orphic Hymns translated by Thomas Taylor
- The Life and Theology of Orpheus by Thomas Taylor, including several Orphic Hymns and their accompanying notes by Taylor
- Orphica in English and Greek (select resources)
- Leibethra – The Tomb of Orpheus (in Greek)
- Warburg Institute Iconographic Database (ca. 400 images of Orpheus)
- Greek Myth Comix: The Story of Orpheus A detailed comic-strip retelling of Orpheus by Greek Myth Comix
- Orphicorum fragmenta, Otto Kern (ed.), Berolini apud Weidmannos, 1922.
- Freese, John Henry (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 327–329. . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.).