Orpheus (/, /; Greek: Ὀρφεύς) was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music, his attempt to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, and his death at the hands of those who could not hear his divine music. 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.
For the Greeks, Orpheus was a founder and prophet of the so-called "Orphic" mysteries. He was credited with the composition of the Orphic Hymns, a collection of which only two have survived. Shrines containing purported relics of Orpheus were regarded as oracles. Some ancient Greek sources note Orpheus' Thracian origins.
- by characterizing human souls as divine and immortal but doomed to live (for a period) in a "grievous circle" of successive bodily lives through metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls.
- by prescribing an ascetic way of life which, together with secret initiation rites, was supposed to guarantee not only eventual release from the "grievous circle" but also communion with god(s).
- by being founded upon sacred writings about the origin of gods and human beings.
- The "Protogonos Theogony", lost, composed c. 500 BC which is known through the commentary in the Derveni papyrus and references in classical authors (Empedocles and Pindar).
- The "Eudemian Theogony", lost, composed in the 5th century BC. It is the product of a syncretic Bacchic-Kouretic cult.
- The "Rhapsodic Theogony", lost, composed in the Hellenistic age, incorporating earlier works. It is known through summaries in later neo-Platonist authors.
- Orphic Hymns. 87 hexametric poems of a shorter length composed in the late Hellenistic or early Roman Imperial age.