ORPHEUS

Son of Thracian King Oeagrus
And the Muse Calliope
Taught to play the lyre by Muses
He made move the rocks and trees.

'Twas Apollo gave him the lyre
He used to enchant wild beasts
His music drew like a pyre
Ancient oaks like bees to feasts.

Orpheus joined the Argonauts
With whom he sailed to Colchis
His music freed them from tight spots
Proving where real power is.

When back he married Eurydice
Settling among savages
Near Tempe she meets Aristaeus
Who her attempts to ravage.

She trod a serpent as she fled
And died of its poisonous bite
To Tartarus Orpheus sped
The clutch of Hades to spite.

With lyre he raced to Thesprotis
Using the passage at Aornum
There he charmed the dog Cerberus
So too the ferryman Charon.

Winning three Judges of the Dead
With music sweet and plaintive
Tortures of the damned suspended
That sweet Eurydice might live.

These with music he won over
Taught to him by the Muses
To return his love to clover
All that remained was Hades.

The music his savage heart soothed
Upper World would go Eurydice
But one condition must be smoothed
For him to gain her release.

Only when she was safely back
Under the light of the sun
Could he then turn himself to track
The progress of his loved one.

Up the dark passage she followed
Guided by sounds of his lyre
If any care for her he showed
Consequences would be dire.

Only when he reached the sunlight
Did he turn to check her there
In this way after his long plight
He lost his love forever.

When Dionysus invaded Thrace
Orpheus failed to honor him
Teaching other things to his race
Than matched the god's darkest whim.

He preached other sacred mysteries
Against rites sacrificial
He proclaimed his god Helius
Called Apollo, best of all.

Overcome by his vexation
Dionysus set the Maenads
On him for cruel execution
They knew to make roll the heads.

In Macedonia at Deium
The temple of Apollo
Where Orpheus makes delirium
Preaching of the high and low.

Maenads letting husbands enter
Seize the weapons stacked outside
Bursting madly into center
Commit holy genocide.

These crazed, fanatic womenfolk
Followers the god of wine
Through their veins happily let soak
Drug of mushrooms on which they dine.

Hallucinations, massive strength
Senseless rioting, energy
These the results from the whole length
Of dosage, a drugged synergy.

As such they would do Orpheus
As Hera had done without meds
When newly-born Dionysus
The Titans had torn to shreds.

Murdering the husbands forthwith
They tore limb-from-limb Orpheus
Then, to fulfill the gruesome myth
His head they tossed into Hebrus.

Severed, his head flowed the river
Singing all the way to Lesbos
So treated, this music-giver
Outraged those on Olympus.

His limbs gathered the sad Muses
As Leibethra buried them
There the nightingale refuses
To sing naught but his anthem.

At the river named Helicorn
Sought to cleanse themselves the Maenads
They hoped they could escape the scorn
Heaped by the Olympiads.

But the River-god dived under
And disappeared for four miles
Thus he tore their plans asunder
Escaping guilt through his wiles.

'Twas Maenad promiscuity
Condemned most by Orpheus
But what angered Aphrodite
Dealt not with Dionysus.

Much like any good musician
Or poet, for that matter
Orpheus took the position
On love that her role shattered.

But, her fellow Olympians
His murder could not justify
Dionysus turned his minions
To oak trees so they'd survive.

Meanwhile a Lemnian serpent
Jealous, attacked Orpheus' head
Apollo flashed that instant
Converting the snake to stone--Dead!

His head at Antissa they laid
In cave sacred to Dionysus
In this way for his crime he paid
Hosting the head of Orpheus.

There it prophesied day and night
Stealing Apollo's business
From the oracle at Delphi
As well Gryneium and Clarus.

With these oracles deserted
Apollo flew to the cave
Over the head he exhorted
"Cease singing, my business to save!"

Thereupon the head fell silent
But his lyre would survive him
Drifting also to the island
It would strum celestial hymns.

Up in a Lesbos temple laid
Where to Apollo they pray
The greatest honor to be paid
Let the lyre forever play.

With the blessings of Olympus
On Muses' intercession
Apollo honored Orpheus
Making his lyre a constellation.

© 2004 by Michael J. Farrand


Adapted from "Sky, Sea, and Underworld: Orpheus" in Robert Graves' The Greek Myths (Volume 1), first printed in 1955 by Penguin Books.

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