According to some sources, Orpheus was the son of the god Apollo and the Muse Calliope. These parents - a god of music and the Muse of epic poetry - help to explain the origin of Orpheus's extraordinary musical gift. And the power of this god-like gift for song was undeniable. The ancient poets Aeschylus and Euripides both tell of how Orpheus used his talents to charm wild animals, trees, and rocks.
Even Hades, the stern and gloomy god of the Underworld, was not immune to the haunting magic of Orpheus's singing. For in one of the most compelling stories about Orpheus, the musician descends to the dark Underworld and begs Hades to release his wife Eurydice from the realm of the dead. After explaining how his young bride was accidentally killed, Orpheus uses his powers as a musician to persuade Hades to let him bring Eurydice back to the land of the living. In Ovid's version of the story, the god of the Underworld agrees to the request, with one condition - Orpheus must not look upon Eurydice until they both reach the surface of the earth. However, the enthusiastic bard forgets this warning and glances at his lovely wife just before they are free of the Underworld. At this moment, Orpheus once again loses his wife.
The story now takes an even more tragic turn. After losing Eurydice for a second time, Orpheus wanders the earth in despair. The musician loved his wife desperately, and wants nothing to do with women. A group of Thracian Maenads, however, take revenge on Orpheus and tear him to pieces. But there is a poetic note to this sad ending. It is said that even after his death, the head of Orpheus floated down the Hebrus river, singing a beautiful and enchanting song of lost love.
Orpheus in Art
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Who's Who in Classical Mythology