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Hermes, Eurydice and Orpheus (relief in the Villa Albani , Rome)

Orpheus ( ancient Greek Ὀρφεύς ) is a singer and poet of Greek mythology . The Orphics appealed to him and saw in him the author of their teachings and the author of the Orphic writings .

The legend

There are various legends about the figure of Orpheus. According to unanimous ancient tradition, it came from Thrace , even if the so-called landscape was generously extended and included Macedonia . Pierien in the northeast of Mount Olympus in particular is mentioned by the majority and in the oldest traditions as his home, specifically Dion in particular claimed to be Orpheus' birthplace. He was born the son of the muse Calliope . His father was the Thracian king and river god Oiagros (or, according to other traditions, Apollo ). Apollon, the god of music, gave him a lyre that Apollon had received from his half-brother Hermes . Orpheus was considered the best among the singers; he bewitched gods, humans and even animals, plants and stones. The trees bowed towards him when he played, and the wild animals crowded peacefully around him, and even the rocks wept at his beautiful song.

Orpheus' life stations

The Argonauts took him on their way to obtain the Golden Fleece . Orpheus sang so beautifully that he even conquered the angry sea and enemies with the magic of his lyre. While driving, he is said to have drowned out the sirens with his singing .

Orpheus' wife was the nymph Eurydice . When Aristaios tried to rape her, according to Virgil's story in the Georgica , she died while fleeing from a snakebite, which Aristaios was charged with. Orpheus went into the underworld to move the god Hades through his song and the play of his lyre to give him back his wife. His art was so great that even the hellhound Kerberos stopped barking. So his request was granted - but on the condition set by Hades and Persephone that he should go ahead on the ascent into the upper world and not look around for Eurydice. However, since he did not hear the steps of his wife behind him, he looked around and she disappeared again into the underworld.

The singer was close to the muses and thus to the god Apollo, but not to Dionysus , the god of intoxication and extravagant, wild parades and chants. Orpheus, as Ovid reports , was torn apart in his homeland by " maenads ", intoxicated followers of Dionysus. According to ancient beliefs, it was no consolation that he could now join the shadow of Eurydice as a shadow. In later adaptations of the myth, the motive for the murder is cited as being that Orpheus renounced his love for women and developed into a misogynist or even turned to the love of boys, which, as Ovid claims, he was the first to have taught the Thracians. However, his head and lyre were thrown into the Hebros River , they swam down into the Aegean Sea and were washed ashore on the island of Lesbos . The head kept singing until Apollo told him to be silent. His grave is said to have been in the city of Leibethra - other sources also name this city as the birthplace of Orpheus and the river in which his head was found, Meletos . His lyre was moved to the sky as a constellation .

Orpheus may have had historical models and was possibly a reformer of the Dionysus cult . His myth embodied the immortality of the soul and combined strong oriental influences with the Thracian roots. The Greeks ascribed the invention of music and dance to him.

Interpretation of Orpheus in early Christian apologetics and art

Orpheus Christ representation in the Marcellinus Peter catacombs (Rome)

Since Clement of Alexandria , Orpheus has been interpreted as a prefiguration of Christ and corresponding interpretations can also be found in Eusebius of Caesarea , Cyril of Alexandria and Augustine , who called him a "poeta theologus". His descent into the underworld has been compared to Christ's descent into the dead ; while Orpheus finally had to leave his beloved behind, Christ broke the gates of hell and led the prisoners of the deep into heaven. Orpheus bewitched the wild animals - Christ the sinners. In the 5th century Orpheus was described as the prophet of Christ.

Classic Orpheus motifs also appear in early Christian art, which can be seen as depictions of Christ. Often these are connected with the motif of the Good Shepherd and show a lyre player with sheep at his side.

The Christian Orpheus motif persists into the late Middle Ages. With the renaissance and the renewed engagement with ancient motifs, the Orpheus representations were largely no longer intended to be Christian from around the 16th century.

The work of a poet also called " Orpheus " is received in the old church.

The myth in art

Name vase of the Orpheus Painter in the Antikensammlung Berlin , red-figure vase painting , middle of the 5th century BC Chr.

In the opera in particular , the story of the singer who tries in vain to win back his lover from Hades has always remained alive, although in Christoph Willibald Gluck's opera Eurydice does not have to return to the underworld, but is allowed to stay with Orpheus. There are numerous Orpheus operas .


An Orpheus playing the vihuela , from El Maestro by Luis Milán , 1536

Musicians in particular took up the story of the singer, who soothed wild animals and even the gods of the underworld with his music:

  • Orpheus Fragments I for two guitars.
  • Orpheus Fragments II - in memoriam Victor Jara for speaker and 7 melody instruments (1985)
  • Orpheus Fragments III for English horn, bassoon, viola and guitar (1994). WP: Ensemble Sortisatio .


The story of the singer Orpheus as a participant in the Argonauts voyage is mentioned in particular at

The tragic love story is u. a. tells at

Some literary versions and arrangements:

Visual arts

Anita Rée: Orpheus with the animals , mural in the ballet school of the Hamburg Ballet , around 1930

Orpheus in the circle of wild animals listening to his music is a popular theme in Roman mosaic art :

The scene in which Eurydice reaches out her hand to Orpheus on the rise from the underworld was a popular motif in sculpture even in antiquity.

Motifs from the Orpheus legend are also taken up in the Middle Ages and in modern art:

Movie and TV



The legend

The myth in the visual arts

  • Felix M. Schoeller: Representations of Orpheus in antiquity. Diss. Phil, Freiburg 1968.
  • Zoltán Kádár : About the animals around Orpheus on a mosaic of the villa near Casale (Piazza Armerina). In: Marcell Restle (Hrsg.): Festschrift for Klaus Wessel on the 70th birthday in memoriam (= Munich works on art history and archeology. Vol. 2). Editio Maris, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-925801-02-2 , pp. 139-145.
  • Otto Schönberger : Orpheus in Florence. Contemporary images from Angelo Poliziano's 'Favola d'Orfeo'. In: Niklas Holzberg , Friedrich Maier (Eds.): Ut poesis pictura. Ancient texts in pictures. Volume 1: Essays, Interpretations, Projects. Buchners Verlag, Bamberg 1993, ISBN 3-7661-5433-8 , pp. 87-93.
  • Catherine Camboulives, Michéle Lavallée (ed.): Les Métamorphoses d'Orphée. Exhibition catalog Tourcoing-Strasbourg-Brussels 1994/1995. Tourcoing 1995, ISBN 90-5349-167-8 .
  • Ilona Julia Jesnick: The image of Orpheus in Roman mosaic, an exploration of the figure of Orpheus in Graeco-Roman art and culture with special reference to its expression in the medium of mosaic in late antiquity. Bar International Series. Vol. 671. Diss. 1992. Archaeopress, London 1997, ISBN 0-86054-862-7 .
  • Karl Walter Littger (ed.): Orpheus in the arts. Exhibition of the Eichstätt-Ingolstadt University Library in the Eichstätt State and Seminar Library, with illustrations by Ernst Arnold Bauer (= publications of the Eichstätt University Library. Vol. 55). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2002, ISBN 3-447-04610-4 .
  • Guido Reuter: The singing head of Orpheus, reception of myths and myths in German painting in the post-war years. In: Myths in Art. Vol. 1: Myth. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-8260-2576-8 , pp. 25-47.
  • Lorenz Dittmann: Eurydike - Aristaeus - Orpheus, on a text by Christa Schwinn. In: Ingeborg Besch (Hrsg.): Pictures are not fictional but clear. Festschrift for Christa Schwinn. Staden, Saarbrücken 2005, ISBN 3-935348-17-7 , pp. 121–128.
  • Götz J. Pfeiffer: Orpheus in the underworld with Karl Junker (1850-1912). The artist and his works between Fatum and Fama. In: Rosenland. Journal of Lippe History. No. 2, 2005, pp. 19–37 E-magazine (PDF; 1.9 MB).

The myth in literature


  • Wolfgang Storch (Ed.): Myth Orpheus. Texts from Virgil to Ingeborg Bachmann. Reclam, Leipzig 1997, 3rd edition. 2001, ISBN 3-379-01590-3 .
  • Christine Mundt-Espín (Ed.): View of Orpheus. 2500 years of European reception history of an ancient myth (= Mainz research on drama and theater. Vol. 29). Francke, Tübingen 2003, ISBN 3-7720-2797-0 .


  • Helmut Gugel: Orpheus' walk into the underworld in Ovid's Metamorphoses (Met. X, 1–171). In: Živa antika. Volume 22, 1972, ISSN  0514-7727 , pp. 39-59.
  • Adolf Primmer : The song of Orpheus in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In: Sprachkunst. Volume 10, 1979, pp. 123-137.
  • Christoff Neumeister: Aristaeus and Orpheus in the 4th book of Georgica. In: Würzburg Yearbooks for Classical Studies. New Series, Volume 8, 1982, pp. 47-56.
  • Bardo Gauly : Ovid, Venus and Orpheus on Atalanta and Hippomenes. To Ov. met. 10, 560-707. In: Franz Bömer (Hrsg.): Gymnasium . Volume 99, 1992, ISSN  0342-5231 , pp. 435-454.
  • Stephan Busch : Orpheus with Apollonios Rhodios. In: Helmut Berve (ed.): Hermes . Volume 121, 1993, ISSN  0018-0777 , pp. 301-324.
  • Hans-Ludwig Oertel: A classical Orpheus. To Ovid, Met. X 40-52. In: Niklas Holzberg, Friedrich Maier (Eds.): Ut poesis pictura. Buchners Verlag, Bamberg 1993, ISBN 3-7661-5433-8 , pp. 79-86.
  • Jörg Döring : Ovids Orpheus. Stroemfeld-Nexus, Basel-Frankfurt 1996, ISBN 3-86109-135-6 .
  • W. Schubert: Orpheus in the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus. In: Ulrich Eigler , Eckard Lefèvre (ed.): Ratis omnia vincet. New investigations into the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus. In collaboration with Gesine Manuwald (= Zetemata. Vol. 98). Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-44598-5 , pp. 269-284.

middle Ages

  • John Block Friedman: Orpheus in the Middle Ages. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) 1970

Modern times

  • Konstantinos Tsangalas: The Orpheus and Arion motif in ancient myth and in a modern Greek fairy tale. In: Wolfdietrich Siegmund (Ed.): Ancient myth in our fairy tales. Röth, Kassel 1984, ISBN 3-87680-335-7 , pp. 72-79.
  • Pierre Brunel (ed.): Le mythe d'Orphée au XIXe et au XXe siècle. Actes du colloque de la Sorbonne. In: Revue de littérature comparée. Volume 73, Issue 4, 1999, ISSN  0035-1466 .
  • Dieter Paul Fuhrmann: Orphic and hermetic tradition in Goethe's work “Urworte. Orphic ". In: Journal of Germanists in Romania. Volume 8, Issue 1–2 (15–16), 1999, pp. 150–154 ( online ).
  • Olga Artsibacheva: The reception of the Orpheus myth in German musical dramas of the 17th century. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2008.
  • Olga Artsibacheva and Christiane Hansen (eds.): German-language Orpheus libretti of the 17th century. 2 volumes. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 2015/16.
  • Seong Joo Lee: Faust or Orpheus? The irony of the brotherhood of the two opposing artist types in Thomas Mann's “Doctor Faustus”. In: Germanic Notes And Reviews. Vol. 45/2, 2014, pp. 21-42.

The myth in the film

  • Graeme Gilloch: Orpheus in Hollywood. Siegfried Kracauer's Offenbach film. In: Mari Hvattum (Ed.): Tracing modernity, manifestations of the modern in architecture and the city. Routledge, New York 2004, ISBN 0-415-30511-X , pp. 307-323.

The myth in class

  • Roland Glaesser: Orpheus as a speaker. A proposal for the treatment of Ovid, Met. X 16–52 in grades 10 or 11. In: The ancient language teaching. Volume 38, Issue 3, 1995, ISSN  0002-6670 , pp. 26-40.
  • Ute Schmidt-Berger: Metamorphoses of Orpheus. In: The ancient language teaching. Volume 38, Issue 4-5, 1995, ISSN  0002-6670 pp. 128-162.
  • Udo Reinhardt: Orpheus and Eurydice. Images to the text. In: The ancient language teaching. Volume 40, Issue 3, 1997, ISSN  0002-6670 , pp. 80-96.
  • Jürgen Wöhrmann: Orpheus is once and for all when he sings. A mythical-mythological figure in text and image. In: The ancient language teaching. Volume 40, Issue 3, 1997, ISSN  0002-6670 , pp. 21-35.

Web links

Commons : Orpheus  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. For the whole section cf. L. Pressouyre: Orpheus . In: Lexicon of Christian Iconography . Freiburg 1971, Volume 2, columns 356–358.
  2. Cf. Andreas Dorschel : The art of not becoming tragic. On the music history of Orpheus. In: Musikfreunde XXVI (2013/14), No. 6, pp. 14-17. ( Memento from June 7, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  3. ↑ Brief portrait in Book I, 23-34.
  4. First brief mentions can be found in Plato , Das Gastmahl 179 d; Euripides , Alkestis 357-362; Isocrates 11.8
  5. 4: 281-566
  6. 10, 1-85
  7. Mosaic Room - 9 Orpheus Mosaic ( Memento from December 24, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  8. http://www.telesubjektiv.at/documentation/gallery/imagepages/gallery_012.html ( Memento from October 9, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  9. geb.uni-giessen.de .