Son of a mortal king and an immortal Muse, Orpheus possessed a
gift for music unmatched among humans; with his lyre he could turn
the course of rivers, drown the fatal song of the Sirens, and charm
the denizens of the underworld. The allure of his music speaks
through the myths and stories of the Greeks and Romans, who tell of
his mysterious compositions, with lyrics that only the initiated
could understand after undergoing secret rites. Where readers of
subsequent centuries have been content to understand these
mysteries as the stuff of obfuscation or mere folderol, Marcel
Detienne finds in the writing of Orpheus a key to the thinking of
the ancient Greeks.
A profound understanding of ancient Greek myth in its cultural
contexts allows Detienne to recover a cultural system from
fragments and ephemera--to reproduce, with sensitivity to variation
and nuance, the full richness of the mythological repertoire
flowing from the writing of Orpheus. His investigation moves from
the Orphic writings to broader mysteries: how Greek gods became
myths, how myths informed later religious thinking, and how myths
have come into play in polemics between competing religions. An
eloquent answer to some of the most vexing questions about the myth
of Orpheus and its far-reaching ramifications through time and
culture, Detienne's work ultimately offers a major rethinking of
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