125. Orpheus is slaughtered

Once upon a time, Orpheus, the son of Calliope and King Oeagrus of Thrace, shunned all women after the unfortunate death of his beloved wife Eurydice. He remained content with his sweet lyre, and his songs swayed the leafy trees, calmed savage beasts, and moved unfeeling rocks. But the women of Thrace were angry with the bard, for he scorned their love.

While Orpheus was tuning love songs to his melodious harp, the Ciconian matrons, with loosed tangled hair and concealing their raving breasts under wild skins, saw him from the top of a hill. One of them recognized him as the poet who had refused their love. She threw a spear, but while in flight, the spear trailed a garland of leaves, and failed to come near him. Another hurled a stone, but its force diminished in the air by the power of his music, and fell lightly at his feet, as if seeking pardon for the audacity.

In wild fury, the crazed women, while hurling stones at Orpheus, ran down the mountain shouting Bacchanalian yells, blaring horns, clapping hands, playing loud tambourines, and jarring boxwood pipes. They created a hideous, noisy, discordant commotion that drowned the true harmonies, emanating from Orpheus’ sweet lyre. The hurled stones, failing to hear the music of Orpheus, found their mark and were stained crimson, with the Thracian bard’s blood. Like savage dogs rushing on a wounded stag, the frantic women flocked around Orpheus, and began to throw clods, tree branches, and flint stones.

Nearby, the peasants working in the fields, saw the troop of hysterical women and in fear, fled away leaving their oxen, spades, and rakes. The frenzied women tore the oxen to pieces, picked up the deserted implements and attacked the harmless poet, who with outstretched hands pleaded their mercy. But with unholy hate, they tore him apart. Orpheus’ life-breath came out of the very same lips, which had once moved rocks and tamed violent animals.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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