Document Type



Final Published Version

Publication Title

Les Études Classiques



Publication Date



Accounts of the descent to the Underworld attributed to Orpheus have been presumed to provide privileged information about the Underworld from the first hand experience of the narrator Orpheus, giving such accounts a special eschatological significance (R. PARKER [1995]). The surviving evidence, however, suggests that accounts of katábasis in texts attributed to Orpheus are not in the first person, while accounts of Orpheus’ katábasisare not attributed to Orpheus (with exception of the allusion in the late Orphic Argonautica). The possibility that the Orphic katabáseis might have recounted the descent of Herakles or Theseus rather than Orpheus himself opens up new avenues for understanding the nature of pre-Platonic Orphica within the Greek epic tradition. Likewise, looking beyond practising Orpheotelests for the authors of these katabáseis allows us to appreciate the way such texts may have been used to explore contemporary medical, mechanical, and other physical ideas. The katabáseis of Orpheus are, quite literally, another story – the story of a mythical poet, whose music is so powerful that it can charm even the lords of death. This separation in the evidence for the katábaseis of Orpheus the author and Orpheus the character prompts re-evaluation of the eschatological significance of Orphic poetry.

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