Origin Myth

The birth of Orpheus

There are many legends of how Orpheus come to be.

One legend tells of the immortal Morpheus, god of sleep. Morpheus came into the world as animals began to sleep, and dream. He stirred the imagination in them during the dark hours, and in some of their dreams the animals began to make strange sounds — not sounds of breathing or eating or killing or dying, but long sounds that carried on and wove a spell over them, and Morpheus was greatly pleased. Sometimes an animal would wake up still making this strange sound, and the other animals would be startled, but also found it familiar. Soon they began to imitate these dream-sounds when they were awake, and so singing began. Over thousands of years the animals continued to sing.They played with songs and made them mean different things — some songs for love, some for amusement and some for sorrow.The birds were the cleverest dreamers, the wolves the saddest dreamers, and the whales the deepest dreamers, and so these animals had the best songs.

Then humans came into the world and like the other animals they also sang, and Morpheus visited them often at first, teaching them to dream up new songs. But by day the humans would cleverly chop their songs up and sort them out and assign them smaller and smaller meanings and use them to carry out their business.They forgot how to sing and instead grunted orders at one another so that they could trade other animals in herds and cages, and build great vain things with mud and stone, and command armies with ever-more-deadly weapons.

Centuries passed, until of all the grunting humans Morpheus only found one that could still properly sing. She was a young mother-to-be in the land of Pieria, who would wake up from a deep dream of her child, and put her hand on her belly and sing a song by the hearth. Morpheus decided to put all of his dreaming song into the tiny child sleeping inside, and when that child was born instead of crying harshly like other children he sang out in clear notes. Remembering the name of his dream-teacher in the shadow world, the child sang out “Orpheus”, and all who heard were astonished by the lovely, dream-like sound.

As a babe Orpheus would sleep and awaken continuously throughout the day, and each time the child awoke he would know a new song or a new way to make music with things he found nearby. Even the words of the grunting people became musical as Orpheus learned them and sang them or spoke them slowly, giving them a shade of meaning that hearkened back to the land of dreams. And so song and poetry were created among the busy, grunting human animals, under the shadow of Mount Olympus.