Orpheus The song of life

Ann Wroe

Book - 2012

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2nd Floor 292.13/Wroe Checked In
New York : Overlook Press 2012, c2011.
Main Author
Ann Wroe (-)
Item Description
First published in Great Britain in 2011 by Jonathan Cape.
Physical Description
262 p. : ill. ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. 247-253) and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Choice Review

In rich, poetic language, Wroe (an editor for The Economist) reflects on the meaning of Orpheus's life, in terms of both its mythological origins and its influence on art and literature. The book is more a lyrical meditation than a scholarly examination of the Orphic tradition. It reads somewhat like a historical novel, although the author frequently shifts her point of view, moving, for example, from a classically inspired description of Orpheus's descent into the underworld to a poem by Rilke. Throughout the book, Wroe displays wit, sensitivity, and breadth of knowledge. Wroe's book is designed for a general audience rather than for academic readers, although specialists will find her sources and insights useful. Those seeking a more traditional scholarly examination of Orpheus and his tradition will do better with Charles Segal's Orpheus: The Myth of the Poet (CH, Jul'89, 26-6101), or Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth, ed. by John Warden (CH, Feb'83). Summing Up: Recommended. Primarily general readers; some specialists. S. E. Goins McNeese State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Western icon and poets' poet, Orpheus is so mutable that, like many figures of ancient religious traditions, it's difficult to tell where reality leaves off and myth begins. Wroe (Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself), a writer and editor for the Economist, seeks out the archetypal dimensions of her exquisite figure, one discovered not only in Greek and Roman writings but also in Hindu Vedas, Babylonian scripture, and Irish stories. She is deliberately less clear in separating story from fact. Real or not, as supposed inventor of the alphabet, Orpheus remains male muse to writers and composers as diverse as Rilke, Anouilh, Valery, Bacon, Plato (who was not known for worshipping at the gooey altar of art), Ovid, Cocteau, Milosz, Monteverdi, and more. Orpheus even passes from history in a Christ-like manner; overtly identified with Jesus by the fifth century, he is said to have been violently killed at sunset. It remains unclear whether the musician-poet is buried in the foothills of Mount Olympus or near lesser known Kardzhali in Bulgaria. Wroe develops her odd blending of real and unreal, somewhat reminiscent of the writing of Edith Hamilton, within seven chapters, one for each string of Orpheus's lyre, and the book sings in a learned, singular manner. Agent: Andrew Wiley, The Wiley Agency. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Wroe (senior editor, Economist; Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself) combines a scholar's attention to evidence with a poet's flair for words in this startlingly original history that traces the obscure origins and tangled relationships of the Orpheus myth from ancient times through today. It's mildly frustrating when one can't identify the source of an allusion-the book has no notes-but the tradeoff is worth it because Wroe succeeds in making the reader feel what it might have been like to follow Orpheus, who preached a universe in which "everything, from the atoms to the stars, moved in circles of reciprocal desire, and Love made everything dance." The appeal of this "first singer of holy songs," who quieted birds and made streams and mountains follow in his footsteps, has persisted: modern thinkers as disparate as Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Cocteau, and Anouilh have written about him, and Rilke is virtually Wroe's guide throughout this book, as the poet composes his dazzling sonnets to Orpheus in a whirl of creativity that is very much Orphic in its intensity. VERDICT This is a brilliant book. The reader will come away with a new appreciation and understanding of the power and beauty of the Orpheus myth.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Economist briefings and obituaries editor Wroe (Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself, 2007, etc.) delivers a transformative adventure of myth. The story of the semi-god Orpheus, the young man with a lyre, has been told and retold across the ages. His music enchanted the trees, calmed the seas and gave birth to light, life and love. According to poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Orpheus taught his followers to "become what you are." Wroe's melodic style breathes new life into his adventures with Jason and the Argonauts, his eternal love of Eurydice and interminable mourning for her and descent into Hades. Orpheus appears in some guise in a wide variety of cultures across centuries--e.g., as a Thracian king, Sir Orfeo in Breton and Irish stories or his invocation on a fifth-century BCE sacrificial token from Olbia on the Black Sea. Even with all that, however, he was not a true god, but only halfway divine; as Horace wrote, "the gods' interpreter." As Wroe writes, "godhead gradually slipped away from him, leaving only a sense of election and the power, through his music, to change landscapes, seasons, hearts." In her tuneful prose, the author recounts the influence of Orpheus on a veritable pantheon of writers and musicians, including Ovid, Virgil, Milton, Shelley, Keats, Cocteau and a host of others. Wroe brings mythology and Orpheus so vividly to life that readers may be convinced that he actually did exist and, indeed, still does. The author ends as she began, with Rilke at work, contemplating the magic of Orpheus: "Beyond the windows, over the hills, fresh clouds were streaming and shape-shifting as fast as the toiling, teeming world. But Orpheus's song rang higher and holier, eternally." A book to make readers laugh, sing and weep.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.