While I’ve covered many of the important Greek heroes and demigods, I don’t think I’ve written about Orpheus yet. He is generally considered to be the son of King Oeagrus of Thrace and the Muse Calliope, but some myths make him the son of Apollo. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which I’m currently reading, he’s the son of Morpheus/Dream, but I don’t think there’s any mythological basis for that. Regardless of the identity of Orpheus’ father, it was Apollo who taught him to be the greatest musician of all time. Hey, I like Elvis and the Beatles as much as anyone, but could their songs calm the seas? Orpheus could do that with his music, which was supposed to be so amazing that even inanimate objects responded favorably to it. When he journeyed with the Argonauts, he used his music to subdue the waters, drown out the Sirens, and put a dragon to sleep. Useful guy to have around, I’d say.
The most famous story of Orpheus involves his descent into the underworld, which provided the basis for the can-can song. He married a nymph named Eurydice, but she was killed by poisonous snakes not long after their wedding. He decided to try to retrieve her from the world of the dead, and was able to enter with no problem because of the power of his music. Hades and Persephone were so awed by his tunes that they agreed to let her take Eurydice back to the world of the living, but only if he didn’t look back until getting out of Hades’ realm. He ended up failing at this, possibly because the gods didn’t want him to defy the natural order of things, no matter how talented he was.
There are a few different accounts of the death of this musical prodigy, several of them being at the hands of women. Some say he was killed by Ciconian groupies because he swore off women after losing Eurydice. Others attribute his death to the Maenads, the bloodthirsty female acolytes of Dionysus, because he refused to worship any god other than Apollo. Seems a little hard to believe when he’d actually MET other gods, but whatever. When the women threw sticks and stones at him, he was able to charm the objects so they wouldn’t hurt him. Eventually, they ripped him apart with their bare hands. His head kept on singing even after death, though.
Also, the Muses put his lyre in the heavens, where it is now known as the constellation Lyra.