The Enchanting Musician of Classical Mythology: Orpheus


8 Minute

The Enchanting Musician of Classical Mythology: Orpheus

Orpheus, one of the legendary heroes of classical mythology, is a musician who could enchant all living creatures, even rocks, with his mesmerizing music; a poet whose poems worked miracles; and a prophet who created a unique cult. Renowned ancient authors such as Strabo and Plutarch suggest that Orpheus was of Thracian origin, as he appears in many mythological stories. As a great musician who created enchanting melodies and loved his wife Eurydice, a nymph, very much, Orpheus became one of the most "romantic" and influential figures in classical mythology, inspiring numerous works of art over the centuries. Let's take a closer look at the fabulous life story of this fascinating mythological figure.

The Golden Lyre of Apollo and the Lyrics of Calliope

According to some ancient sources, Orpheus, the son of the Thracian king Oeagrus or, according to others, the son of the god Apollo, was inspired by the muse Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. According to legend, when Orpheus lived with his mother and sisters in Pimpleia near Mount Olympus, Apollo gave him a golden lyre on which he learned to play. Orpheus also learned to write lyrics from his mother and thus took the first steps towards creating magical music.

One of the mythological adventures in Orpheus' story begins when he joins the voyage of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. On the voyage of the ship Argo, which included such famous mythological figures as Heracles, Orpheus enchants the sailors so that they can continue their journey by defeating the sirens, who seduce the sailors and cause accidents, with his music. If you would like to learn more about the legendary voyage of the Argonauts, read our blog post entitled "A Gateway from Mythology to Reality: Giresun Island", which is believed to have been one of the stops on this legendary journey.

Love Defying Death

One of the most famous stories about Orpheus in classical mythology relates to the death of his beloved wife Eurydice. Orpheus, who is very fond of Eurydice, a nymph from the mountains and valleys, is shaken to the core one day by her sudden death from a snakebite. The funeral melodies that the enchanting musician plays for his wife Eurydice are so moving that all the fairies and even the gods weep. Those who are touched by Orpheus' melodies advise him to go to the underworld, from which few mortals have ever returned, and bring Eurydice back. Orpheus follows this advice and goes to the underworld, where he convinces Hades and Persephone with his music to bring his wife back to life.

In a widely known version of the story, Orpheus is given a single condition in return: Hades and Persephone will allow Eurydice to return, but Eurydice will follow her husband and Orpheus must not look back until they both reach the surface. As soon as Orpheus steps onto the surface, however, he becomes suspicious and looks back, and at that moment, before Eurydice has risen to the surface, he loses her again.

Orpheus, who appears in many canonical scenes in mythological tales, has been depicted in many works of art throughout history. Legendary scenes that have been recreated over the centuries include his gaze upon Persephone as he leaves the underworld, his murder by the followers of the god Dionysus, the Maenads, and his iconic image playing the lyre while surrounded by animals. Many mosaics depicting Orpheus have survived in Türkiye, particularly in villas from the Roman period. One of these is the mosaic on display at the Konuralp Museum in Düzce, which shows Orpheus surrounded by animal figures and women representing the seasons at the four corners. Another mosaic from 194 AD depicting Orpheus surrounded by animals can be found in the Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum in Şanlıurfa. You can visit these museums in Türkiye to see these centuries-old works that give reality to this great mythological figure.