Oct 102012
 

As for Orpheus’ head: after being attacked by a jealous Lemnian serpent (which Apollo at once changed into a stone) it was laid to rest in a cave at Antissa, sacred to Dionysus.

There it prophesised day and night until Apollo, finding that his oracles at Delphi, Gryneium and Clarus where deserted, came and stood over the head crying: ‘Cease from interference in my business; I have borne long enough with you and your singing!’ Thereupon the head fell silent.

Orpheus’ lyre had likewise drifted to Lesbos and been laid up in a temple of Apollo, at whose intercession, and that of the Muses, the Lyre was placed in Heaven as a constellation.

Some gave a wholly different account of how Orpheus died: they say that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt for divulging divine secrets. He had, indeed, instituted the Mysteries of Apollo in Thrace; those of Hecate in Aegina; and those of Subterrene Demeter at Sparta.

Orpheus’ singing head recalls that of the decapitated Alder-god Bran which, according to the Mabinogion, sang sweetly on the rock at Harlech in North Wales; a fable, perhaps, of the funerary pipes made from alder-bark. Thus the name Orpheus, if it stands for ophruoeis, ‘on the river bank’, may be a title of Bran’s Greek counterpart, Phoroneus, or Cronus, and refer to the alders ‘growing on the banks of’ the Peneius and other rivers.

The name of Orpheus’ father, Oeagrus (‘of the wold sorb’ apple’), points to the same cult, since the sorb-apple (French = alisier) and the alder (Spanish = aliso) both bear the name of the pre-Hellenic River-goddess Halys, or Alys, or Elis, Queen of the Elysian Islands, where Phoroneus, Cronus and Orpheus went after death. Aornum is Avernus, an Italic variant of the Celtic Avalon (‘apple-tree island’)

Orpheus is said by Diodorus of Siculus to have used the old thirteen-consonant alphabet; and the legend is that he made the trees move and charmed wild beasts apparently refers to its sequence of seasonal trees and symbolic animals. As sacred king he was struck by a thunderbolt – that is, killed with a double-axe – in an oak grove at the summer solstice, and then dismembered by the Maenads of the bull cult, like Zagreus’ or of the stag cult, like Actaeon; the Maenads, in fact, represented the Muses.

In Classical Greece the practice of tattooing was confined to Thracians, and in a vase-painting of Orpheus’ murder a Maenad has a small stag tattooed on her forearm. This Orpheus did not come in conflict with the cult of Dionysus; he was Dionysus, and he played the rude alderpipe, not the civilised lyre. Thus Proclus writes: ‘Orpheus,  because he was the principal in the Dionysian rites, is said to have suffered the same fate as the god’ and Apollodorus credits him with having invented the Mysteries of Dionysus.

The Greek Myths, Robert Graves

 

Jul 042010
 

A cruel folk you are, unmatched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a goddess sleep with a man, even if it is done without concealment and she has chosen him as her lawful consort. You were the same when Rose-fingered Dawn fell in love with Orion. Easy livers yourselves, you were outraged at her conduct, and in the end chaste Artemis rose from her golden throne, attacked him in Ortygia with her gentle darts and left him dead.

And so again, when the lovely Demeter gave way to her passion and lay in the arms of her beloved Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow field, Zeus heard of it quickly enough and struck him dead with his blinding thunderbolt. And now it is my turn to incur that same divine displeasure for living with a mortal man – a man whom I rescued from death as he was drifting alone astride the keel of his ship, when Zeus had shattered it with his lightening bolt out on the wine dark sea, and all his men were lost, but he was driven to this island by wind and waves.

I welcomed him with open arms; I tended him; I even hoped to give him immortality and ageless youth. But now, goodbye to him, since no god can evade or thwart the will of Zeus. If Zeus insists that he should leave, let him be gone across the barren water. But he must not expect me to transport him. I have no ship, no oars, no crew to carry him so far across the seas. Yet I do promise with a good grace and unreservedly to give him such directions as will bring him safe and sound to Ithaca.

Homer, The Odyssey