A Loving Hero:
Orpheus was a musician so talented be could tame beasts, including the hound of Hades
, and move mountains. Like a limited number of other heroes
in Greek mythology
, Orpheus braved the Underworld
and returned to light on his own power, unlike Theseus
who required rescue by Hercules. He is also credited with the institutions of Greek pederasty and the Orphic mystery religion.
The story of Orpheus has remained perennially popular among poets and artists.
Family of Orpheus:
Orpheus is said to have been the son of a muse
, usually Calliope
. His father is given as either Apollo
or the Thracian king King Oiagros. Orpheus and his wife, Eurydice, had a son named Musaios. Generally counted a Thracian, Orpheus lived in Pieria, on the Macedonian side of Olympus
, where Apollo (or Linus [see More About Hercules
]) taught him to play the lyre, a gift of Apollo or Hermes
Orpheus and the Argonauts:
Orpheus was a peripheral character in the story of the Argonauts
Before the Argonauts set sail, they sacrificed to Apollo Embasios while Orpheus sang to him as preparation for the journey on which he, Hercules, and many other figures from Greek mythology joined Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece. Later in the journey, after the Argonauts saw Apollo in all his glory, at dawn on the island of Thynias, Orpheus suggested erecting an altar to Apollo of the Dawn.
Orpheus and the Sirens:
In the Odyssey Book XII
, Odysseus' men avoid the fatal lure of the Sirens
by putting wax in their ears, while Odysseus is tied to a post so he can't leap into the water to join them. In the story of the Argonauts, the Sirens present the same danger, but Orpheus drowns the music with his own.
Death of Eurydice:
Orpheus is best known from the story of his attempted rescue of his wife, Eurydice. After Eurydice died, Orpheus wanted her back, so he went to Hades to retrieve her. His music charmed the denizens of the Underworld into granting an opportunity to bring her back to life. He was given one condition, however. Orpheus could not look at his wife until they both saw the light of day. Unfortunately, as they made their trek -- Orpheus in the lead -- Orpheus couldn't control himself from looking back at his wife, and so lost Eurydice forever.
After the Death of Eurydice:
After he was widowed, Orpheus was not interested in a second marriage. He did not, however, live in celibacy. Vase paintings show him having relations with satyrs and adolescent boys. He is credited as the "father of Greek love" [See "Bisexual Orpheus: Pederasty and Parody in Ovid," by John F. Makowski. The Classical Journal, Vol. 92, No. 1, pp. 25-38.]. Orpheus taught the youth about the Orphic way of life, including mysteries he had brought back from the Underworld and transcribed in hexameters. These became the basis for the Orphic mystery religion.
Death of Orpheus:
Orpheus was associated with Apollo from birth. According to Aeschylus
, in a lost play called Bassarids
, Thracian Maenads
, spurred by Dionysus
who wished Orpheus to honor him (again -- apparently Orpheus' allegiance had switched), tore Orpheus apart, as, in another myth, happened to the Theban King Pentheus
The head and lyre of Orpheus floated to the poetic island of Lesbos where an oracle of Orpheus was established. There are other places named the site of his burial.
There are other accounts of his death, too, including his being killed by Zeus for revealing the mysteries, and suicide.
Some Ancient Sources on Orpheus: