The Case of Orpheus
This chapter considers the relationship between Orpheus the mythical character and Orpheus the putative author of mystic texts, arguing that it is best understood by focusing on the tomb of the singer. Various ancient sources suggest that the singer carried on performing poetry even after his death: he sang from his tomb and through the landscape. This helps to explain how Orphic authorship worked in antiquity, as well as the reasons why it was so contested. Some ancient critics argued that, far from being age-old works, Orphic poems were in fact recent forgeries. Devotees of Orpheus, meanwhile, could insist that the poet’s voice was heard emerging from his tomb and from stones, trees, caves, and birds—that is to say, from nature itself: Orphic authorship, from that perspective, was a matter of good reception, rather than fraud.
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