Orpheus

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Orpheus (Greek: Ὀρφεύς; in English pronounced /ˈɔrfi.əs/ or /ˈɔrfjuːs/) is a legendary figure, described by most ancient sources as Thracian, and venerated throughout the ancient Hellenised world as a heroic, civilising benefactor to mankind .[1][2] He was the inspiration and focus for Orphic cults, myths and literature.

The earliest reference to Orpheus is a two-word fragment of the sixth-century BC lyric poet Ibycus: onomaklyton Orphēn ("Orpheus famous of name"). He is not mentioned in Homer or Hesiod.[3] Most ancient sources accept his historical existence; Aristotle is an exception.[4]

Pindar calls Orpheus "the father of songs"[5] and asserts him as a son of the Thracian king Oeagrus[6] and the Muse Calliope:[7] but as Karl Kerenyi observes, "in the popular mind he was more closely linked to the community of his disciples and adherents than with any particular race or family".[8]

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 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,[9] and divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes[10] to visit the Underworld and return; his music and song even had power over Hades.

Some sources credit Orpheus with further gifts to mankind: medicine, which is more usually under the aegis of Aesculapius; writing,[11] which is usually credited to Cadmus) and agriculture, where Orpheus assumes the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus, giver of Demeter's knowledge to mankind. Orpheus was an augur and seer; practiced magical arts, especially astrology, founded cults to Apollo and Dionysus[12] and prescribed the mystery rites preserved in Orphic texts. In addition, Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes[13] place Orpheus as the harpist and companion of Jason and the Argonauts. Orpheus had a brother named Linus that went to Thebes and became a Theban.[14]

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