Orpheus (page 724, with art)

Chapter 18: Other Myths

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Vergil, Georgics 4.453-503

Doubt not ’tis wrath divine that plagues thee thus,
Nor light the debt thou payest; ’tis Orpheus’ self,
Orpheus unhappy by no fault of his,
So fates prevent not, fans thy penal fires,
Yet madly raging for his ravished bride.
She in her haste to shun thy hot pursuit
Along the stream, saw not the coming death,
Where at her feet kept ward upon the bank
In the tall grass a monstrous water-snake.
But with their cries the Dryad-band her peers
Filled up the mountains to their proudest peaks:
Wailed for her fate the heights of Rhodope,
And tall Pangaea, and, beloved of Mars,
The land that bowed to Rhesus, Thrace no less
With Hebrus‘ stream; and Orithyia wept,
Daughter of Acte old. But Orpheus’ self,
Soothing his love-pain with the hollow shell,
Thee his sweet wife on the lone shore alone,
Thee when day dawned and when it died he sang.
Nay to the jaws of Taenarus too he came,
Of Dis the infernal palace, and the grove
Grim with a horror of great darkness—came,
Entered, and faced the Manes and the King
Of terrors, the stone heart no prayer can tame.
Then from the deepest deeps of Erebus,
Wrung by his minstrelsy, the hollow shades
Came trooping, ghostly semblances of forms
Lost to the light, as birds by myriads hie
To greenwood boughs for cover, when twilight-hour
Or storms of winter chase them from the hills;
Matrons and men, and great heroic frames
Done with life’s service, boys, unwedded girls,
Youths placed on pyre before their fathers’ eyes.  Continue reading  Latin Text

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.1-85

Veiled in a saffron mantle, through the air
unmeasured, after the strange wedding, Hymen
departed swiftly for Ciconian land;
regardless and not listening to the voice
of tuneful Orpheus. Truly Hymen there
was present during the festivities
of Orpheus and Eurydice, but gave
no happy omen, neither hallowed words
nor joyful glances; and the torch he held
would only sputter, fill the eyes with smoke,
and cause no blaze while waving. The result
of that sad wedding, proved more terrible
than such foreboding fates.

While through the grass
delighted Naiads wandered with the bride,
a serpent struck its venomed tooth in her
soft ankle— and she died.—After the bard
of Rhodope had mourned, and filled the highs
of heaven with the moans of his lament,
determined also the dark underworld
should recognize the misery of death,
he dared descend by the Taenarian gate
down to the gloomy Styx. And there passed through
pale-glimmering phantoms, and the ghosts
escaped from sepulchres, until he found
Persephone and Pluto, master-king
of shadow realms below. Continue reading  Latin Text

Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.1-66

While with his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace,
allured the trees, the savage animals,
and even the insensate rocks, to follow him;
Ciconian matrons, with their raving breasts
concealed in skins of forest animals,
from the summit of a hill observed him there,
attuning love songs to a sounding harp.
One of those women, as her tangled hair
was tossed upon the light breeze shouted, “See!
Here is the poet who has scorned our love!”
Then hurled her spear at the melodious mouth
of great Apollo’s bard: but the spear’s point,
trailing in flight a garland of fresh leaves,
made but a harmless bruise and wounded not.

The weapon of another was a stone,
which in the very air was overpowered
by the true harmony of his voice and lyre,
and so disabled lay before his feet,
as asking pardon for that vain attempt.

The madness of such warfare then increased.
All moderation is entirely lost,
and a wild Fury overcomes the right.—
although their weapons would have lost all force,
subjected to the power of Orpheus’ harp,
the clamorous discord of their boxwood pipes,
the blaring of their horns, their tambourines
and clapping hands and Bacchanalian yells,
with hideous discords drowned his voice and harp.—
at last the stones that heard his song no more
fell crimson with the Thracian poet’s blood.  Continue reading  Latin Text

Scholion at Euripides, Alkestis 357 – Scholia in Euripidem, vol. 2, p. 227, ed. E. Schwartz. Berlin 1887. 

Greek Text

ApB 1.3.2 – Apollodoros, Bibliotheke (Library)

Now Calliope bore to Oeagrus or, nominally, to Apollo, a son Linus, whom Hercules slew; and another son, Orpheus, who practised minstrelsy and by his songs moved stones and trees. And when his wife Eurydice died, bitten by a snake, he went down to Hades, being fain to bring her up, and he persuaded Pluto to send her up. The god promised to do so, if on the way Orpheus would not turn round until he should be come to his own house. But he disobeyed and turning round beheld his wife; so she turned back. Orpheus also invented the mysteries of Dionysus, and having been torn in pieces by the Maenads he is buried in Pieria.  Greek Text

Pausania, Description of Greece 9.30.5

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.  Greek Text

Hyginus, De Astrologia 2.7.4

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.  Latin Text

 Cincinnati Art Museum 1979.1: Attic red-figure cup, death of Orpheus at hands of Thracian women

S. Bundrick, Music and Image in Classical Athens (2005), 119 fig. 71

Digital Media Center, University of Haifa

Cincinnati Art Museum

Beazley Archive Pottery Database

Paris, Musée du Louvre G416: Attic red-figure stamnos by Hermonax, death of Orpheus


Beazley Archive Pottery Database

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Artistic sources edited by  R. Ross Holloway, Elisha Benjamin Andrews Professor Emeritus, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown Univ., and Frances Van Keuren, Prof. Emerita, Lamar Dodd School of Art, Univ. of Georgia, May 2019.

Literary sources edited by Elena Bianchelli, Retired Senior Lecturer of Classical Languages and Culture, Univ. of Georgia, February 2022


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