Orpheus and Musaios


Orpheus was the mythical son of the musician god Apollo, inventor of the lyre, and Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry. Not surprisingly, Orpheus became a famous poet, singer, and musician on the lyre, and was one of the greatest heroes of the Greeks. His acheivements included sailing with Jason on the Argo in pursuit of the Golden Fleece.

Orpheus and Euridice

The most famous myth about Orpheus is the tragic story of his love for Euridice, a nymph, told in Ovid's Metamorphoses. He fell in love with and married her. Shortly after the wedding, she was bitten by a snake and died. Overcome with grief, Orpheus descended to the lands of the dead with his lyre, in search of her. He played and sang so sadly and sweetly that the denizens of the underworld let him past, and Persephone and Hades himself relented and let Euridice leave with him. However, they made a condition: that Orpheus could not look back until they were back above ground. Of course, Orpheus glanced back just as they were emerging, and Euridice was borne away again. And the guardians of Hades would not let him back a second time.

The Death of Orpheus

Orpheus was inconsolable after the second loss of Euridice. He spurned all other women. This led to his death; thracian women, worshippers of Dionysos, became angry with him and tore him to pieces. His head and lyre were thrown into a river, and eventually floated to the island of Lesbos, Sappho's home, where they were buried.

Orpheus's authority as a religious teacher may arise from knowledge he gained while visiting the underworld, or may rest on his reputation as a poet.


Musaios means 'of the Muses'. He was said to be one of the oldest and greatest poets, and was sometimes called the son of Orpheus. No other myths or stories arose around him, but he was greatly respected, and valued theological poems, including some orphic poems and some of those used in the Elusinian mysteries, were attributed to him. Ancient oracles collected by the Athenian chresmologists or 'oracle-gatherers' were also attributed to him.