God of the Week: Orpheus

God of the Week 02/08/10: Orpheus

Orpheus was a Greek god, son of a river-god and a muse. Though Orpheus shares divine lineage with heroes like Heracles and Perseus, he is more well known as a lover, philosopher, poet, and musician than as a hero, and does not have the great epic adventures attributed to him that other Greek gods do. He is well known for his hypnotic singing and his playing of the lyre. He is also one of a few gods, along with Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus, that is considered to be the author of written literature, Orphic literature going back to at least the 4th century BCE. Orpheus is also known as the inventor of the Eleusinian Mystery Religions, also known as the Orphic Religions or Orphism.

Orpheus does have one great tale told of him, though. A tale in which he visited the underworld and returned:

Orpheus’s lover, Eurydice, was killed by a venomous snake. Orpheus was so saddened, that he traveled to the underworld in an attempt to persuade Hades, god of the dead, to allow her return to the mortal realm. In an effort to soften his heart, Orpheus played a song to Hades that was so moving Hades agreed to release Eurydice on the condition that, on the journey back, Orpheus would walk in front of her, never once turning his head to check on her. When they are nearly to the surface, Orpheus hears a noise and, in one reflexive move, glances back only to see Eurydice pulled back to the underworld.

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