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Orpheus

The meaning of «orpheus»

Orpheus (/ˈɔːrfiːəs, ˈɔːrfjuːs/; Ancient Greek: Ὀρφεύς, classical pronunciation: [or.pʰeú̯s]) is a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion.

Ancient Greek sources note Orpheus' Thracian origins.[1] The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music (the usual scene in Orpheus mosaics), his attempt to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld, and his death at the hands of the maenads of Dionysus who tired of his mourning for his late wife Eurydice. As an archetype of the inspired singer, Orpheus is one of the most significant figures in the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, portrayed or alluded to in countless forms of art and popular culture including poetry, film, opera, music, and painting.[2]

For the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the so-called "Orphic" mysteries.[3] He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns and the Orphic Argonautica. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were regarded as oracles.

Several etymologies for the name Orpheus have been proposed. A probable suggestion is that it is derived from a hypothetical PIE root *h₃órbʰos 'orphan, servant, slave' and ultimately the verb root *h₃erbʰ- 'to change allegiance, status, ownership.'[4] Cognates could include Greek: ὄρφνη (órphnē; 'darkness')[5] and ὀρφανός (orphanós; 'fatherless, orphan')[6] from which comes English 'orphan' by way of Latin.

Fulgentius, a mythographer of the late 5th to early 6th century AD, gave the unlikely etymology meaning "best voice," "Oraia-phonos".[7]

It was believed by Aristotle that Orpheus never existed, but to all other ancient writers he was a real person, though living in remote antiquity. Most of them believed that he lived several generations before Homer.[8] The earliest literary reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the 6th century BC lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton Orphēn ('Orpheus famous-of-name'). He is not mentioned in Homer or Hesiod.[9] Most ancient sources accept his historical existence; Aristotle is an exception.[10][11] Pindar calls Orpheus 'the father of songs'[12] and identifies him as a son of the Thracian king Oeagrus[13] and the Muse Calliope.[14]

Greeks of the Classical age venerated Orpheus as the greatest of all poets and musicians; it was said that while Hermes had invented the lyre, Orpheus had perfected it. Poets such as Simonides of Ceos said that Orpheus' music and singing could charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance,[16] and divert the course of rivers.

Orpheus was one of the handful of Greek heroes[17] to visit the Underworld and return; his music and song even had power over Hades. The earliest known reference to this descent to the underworld is the painting by Polygnotus (5th century BC) described by Pausanias (2nd century AD), where no mention is made of Eurydice. Euripides and Plato both refer to the story of his descent to recover his wife, but do not mention her name; a contemporary relief (about 400 BC) shows Orpheus and his wife with Hermes. The elegiac poet Hermesianax called her Agriope; and the first mention of her name in literature is in the Lament for Bion (1st century BC)[8]

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