A true rock star of the ancient world

Orpheus's lament

A true rock star of the ancient world

This time I will review the history of a true rock star of the ancient world. I´m talking about a musician who had fame and women, but he loved only one and faced the very king of hell for her.

Orpheus was the son of the most important muse, Calliope and Eagro in some versions and Apollo in others.

The word music comes directly from the muses. The greeks believed that they had invented it and had given it to humanity.

So it is not surprising that, being the son of Calliope (it was also common to associate Apollo with music), Orpheus had a special gift for such discipline.

Indeed, since he was a child, he liked to sing. He also invented the lyre, at first with 7 strings, but later extended it to 9, in homage to the muses.

A super hero?

His music seemed to have supernatural powers: It is said that when they heard it, the beasts calmed down and even fell asleep. Will the false belief that music calms the beasts come from this myth? If you know, leave me a comment.

His music could also move trees, rocks and stop the flow of rivers (the river stopped to listen to the music).

He participated in the expedition of the Argonauts, in search of the golden fleece and in that mission, he had the opportunity to measure himself against the very sirens: With his music, he marked the rhythm of the oarsmen and covered the song of those monsters, to prevent them from enchant the crew (normally the sailors jumped into the water and swam towards the mermaids, who devoured them).

He was one of the pioneers of civilization, as he taught not only music, but also medicine, writing, and agriculture. Later we will talk about their participation in religious life.

His music also softened the hearts of the hardest of men. And as for the women, well, you can imagine: Hundreds of girls, both mortal and divine, wanted his heart. But he rejected all of them except one.

Orpheus and women
Orpheus and women

The lady in distress

Indeed, when he met the nymph Eurydice, he fell madly in love with her. The girl reciprocated and they were happy together. But in Greek mythology, when humans are happy, that means something bad is going to happen. Because for the Greeks, human beings were not destined to be happy.

Thus, one day, Eurydice decided to go to the Thracian meadows, to visit her friends, the naiads. There a snake bit her. In some versions, the accident occurred while she was fleeing from Aristeo. I haven’t looked for much information on this subplot. Maybe in a future update.

Eurydice died
Eurydice died

The fact is that Eurydice died and her soul went to Hades. Since then, Orfeo’s music became more melancholic. Could we say that Orpheus entered his Gothic period? Who knows…

And while Orpheus wore the gothic cloak, many women tried to console him, but he remained faithful to his beloved, even after she died (I insist: this is more gothic than an Edgar Alan Poe´s tale).

orpheus in hell
orpheus in hell

To the rescue

But he was a rock star and wasn’t going to let Hades take his woman from him. So when he got tired of crying, he came up with a plan to rescue her.

And his plan was simply to present himself at the gates of hell armed only with his lyre and his voice.

Everyone made their way for him, delighted with his music. Even the terrible three-headed dog, Cerberus, fell asleep when it listened to his music. That day, the torments of hell stopped, for the first and only time, to listen to Orpheus.

And since, surely, the kings of the underworld were not at all happy that everyone stopped working, just to go to a concert, they decided to grant him an audience in their palace.

A private audition

Through his music, he managed to convey all the sorrow he felt for the loss of his beloved. We don’t know if it worked on Hades, but he certainly convinced his wife, Persephone, and she did the rest.

Thus, Persephone convinced her husband to return Eurydice, but the king of the underworld imposed a condition: Orpheus had to walk in front of Eurydice and not look back until they left the underworld and the sun’s rays bathed his wife.

Orpheus sang as he traveled back to the world of the living. Supposedly, Eurydice followed him, although he did not hear anything. The dead greeted him as he passed, gave him advice, and revealed the secrets of the underworld to him.

But when he was about to reach the exit, Orfeo began to doubt. What if they had scammed him? And then Orpheus turned and looked. That was a serious mistake.

In horror, he watched Eurydice´s body dissolve before his eyes, so she died a second time.

Orpheus tried to return to the underworld, but the ferryman Charon did not allow him. I didn’t quite understand why the second time it didn’t work. If you know, leave me a comment.

rescuing Eurydice
rescuing Eurydice

Orpheus the wizard

So Orpheus returned to the world of the living, but now he rejected other women even more since, in reality, he had not given up yet. Indeed, he continued to search for ways to unravel the mysteries of the underworld. He wanted to go back, but this time, through religion and magic.

Orpheus became an augur and a prophet. He practiced magic and astrology. They also say he founded several cults such as that of Apollo and Dionysus. He created mystical rites and rituals of initiation and purification. Possibly, he visited Egypt and learned about the writings of Moses. He founded a secret society, where men met at his house at night, leaving their weapons at the door.

When Hercules had to take Cerberus from Hades, he studied the work of Orpheus. More about Hercules’s Labors here.

One of those nights, the women, jealous of Eurydice, stole the weapons, killed her disciples and took Orpheus to a mountain, where they dismembered him.

Her head was lost, but later, it was found still singing and they buried it in Thessaly.

Zeus decided to place the lyre in the sky, creating a constellation and sent the soul of Orpheus to the Elysian fields, to sing for the souls of the blessed.

Thus, Orpheus got a job in the afterlife, but he never saw Eurydice again.

orpheus's death
orpheus’s death


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