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the death of orpheus

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With his songs, Orpheus, the bard of Thrace, allured the trees, the savage animals, and even the insensate rocks. He now stood in a forest opening, attuning love songs to a sounding harp.

Ciconian matrons, with their raving breasts concealed in skins of forest animals, observed him from the summit of a hill. “See! Here is the poet who has scorned our love!” woman hurled her spear at the melodious mouth of great Apollo’s bard: but the spear’s point made only a harmless bruise and wounded not. The weapon of another was a stone, which in the very air was overpowered by the true harmony of his voice and lyre.

The madness of such warfare then increased. All moderation was entirely lost, overcome by a wild fury. The clamorous discord of the Ciconian boxwood pipes, the blaring of their horns, their tambourines, clapping hands and Bacchanalian yells drowned his voice and harp. No longer was Orpheus’s music able to combat their weapons —and stones now fell crimson with the Thracian poet’s blood.

Before they took Orpheus’s life, the maenads turned their murderous hands upon the many birds, snakes and other beasts which still were charmed by his song. Then as the savage dogs rush on the doomed stag in the sand of the amphitheatre, they attacked the bard, with swift hurled thyrsi adorned with emerald leaves, which had not till then been used for cruelty.

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