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Orpheus: The Song of Life [Hardcover]

Ann Wroe
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
Price: 14.39 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

14 July 2011

For at least two and a half millennia, the figure of Orpheus has haunted humanity. Half-man, half-god, musician, magician, theologian, poet and lover, his story never leaves us. He may be myth, but his lyre still sounds, entrancing everything that hears it: animals, trees, water, stones, and men.

In this extraordinary work Ann Wroe goes in search of Orpheus, from the forests where he walked and the mountains where he worshipped to the artefacts, texts and philosophies built up round him. She traces the man, and the power he represents, through the myriad versions of a fantastical life: his birth in Thrace, his studies in Egypt, his voyage with the Argonauts to fetch the Golden Fleece, his love for Eurydice and journey to Hades, and his terrible death. We see him tantalising Cicero and Plato, and breathing new music into Gluck and Monteverdi; occupying the mind of Jung and the surreal dreams of Cocteau; scandalising the Fathers of the early Church, and filling Rilke with poems like a whirlwind. He emerges as not simply another mythical figure but the force of creation itself, singing the song of light out of darkness and life out of death.

Frequently Bought Together

Orpheus: The Song of Life + Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement (Mythos: The Princeton-Bollingen Series in World Mythology)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (14 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224091360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224091367
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 459,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This insightful and visionary study, treading a perfect line between imagination and scholarship, is as readable and necessary as a fine novel. Ted Hughes, another mythographer, would have loved it." (Independent)

"Ann Wroe has an acute eye for pastoral detail...and takes a novelist's care in exploring character and evoking atmosphere... [Orpheus] will leave you dancing." (New Statesman)

"This is a most remarkable book... most rewarding... [a book] that will surely enhance Ann Wroe's already considerable reputation." (The Irish Times)

"Orpheus: The Song of Life is a book of wonders, learned, playful and passionate...For all her studies, her wide reading, her historical dilligence, Wroe's method is instinctive, as she searches for inspirations and connections across the millennia." (Guardian)

"Marvellous subjects can still, sometimes deliver leaden books. This one, though, really is a song ... It evokes, but it also embodies, its subject." (The Times)

Book Description

A powerful and poetic work of history on the figure of Orpheus: his life and myth, and his representation and imagining from the sixth century BC to the present day.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted.... 15 Aug 2011
...but if you can tune into Ann Wroe's fine poetic prose, this is a real gem. Her style is particular, but absolutely consistent and very beautiful. This is not a history book, nor a sociological analysis of a meme. It is founded on a great deal of erudition, the old-fashioned kind, eclectic, deep, emotionally and intellectually responsive, not the modern academic kind, which scientifically eviscerates its subjects in order mostly to score points off other academics. It's not a book about Orpheus, it is a meditation on, in, around Orpheus. I've been reading it at bedtime all this week, while riots rage outside and ongoing family tragedies play out inside, and its gentle flow and precisely woven structure have been nothing short of a life saver. It's not for everyone, I don't suppose it will sell like Stieg Larssen, or even the amber-eyed Hare, but if it floats your boat, then bon voyage, a ravishing cruise is yours.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wroe captures the cadences of Orpheus perfectly 13 Oct 2011
It's pretty rare I find myself reading aloud excerpts from a non-fiction book to anyone within earshot but this study by Ann Wroe has impinged on me in a manner that caught me entirely by surprise. The author's aim is to bring us all to understand the power of Orpheus that permeates Western Literature and Art. She achieves this by letting us not just empathize with her subject matter, but sympathize to the point we are caught up in a glorious swirl of colour, pattern, song and poesy that is breathtaking.
I have found myself re-reading passages just to savour the poetic prose, the eclectic daub of a wordsmith who commences by telling us how the German poet Rilke finally experienced his Orphic epiphany. Yet, by the end, we realise that Wroe herself has experienced the same literary empyreal ascent and that Orpheus speaks once more through a select group of artists. I would give some examples of the subtle brilliance of word play, of the history we learn about Orpheus, about the mythical man, the ascribed Hymns and tantalising touches of verse in those who tried to quote him and, at the last, examples within this book of the real impact he has had on our artistic consciousness...but they are too bountiful to choose.
I found this book by chance in an independent bookshop and I am reluctant to take it from my side table and place it on a bookshelf. It and the author just keep on giving with every glance at its pages. As a previous reviewer suggests, if you like your analysis and history delivered in a dry manner then this will not suit you. However, if you wish to taste the power of Orpheus, then this book is very much for you.
A stunning effort by Ann Wroe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Navigating the Underworld? 9 Sep 2012
The author charts an impressionistic journey into the many pathways followed by the myth of orpheus over two and a half millennia. Each of the seven chapters is based on a separate string of Orpheus lyre, with explorations of the different interpretations on themes of love, death made by authors from different cultures and periods. The result is something of a maze of twisting pathways written in a somewhat heady literary style that threatens to leave the reader wandering like a lost soul in Hades. I found the result alternately intoxicating and confusing as references from different authors are mixed together without any attempt at an evaluation of the source material as all becomes grist to the author's personal vision. The result is a useful introduction to the range of material on the myth composited into a sustained poetic narrative. Wroe covers an impressive range although her modern sources are seriously dated, unfortunately including the speculations of James Fraser and Robert Graves - so references to 'vegetal gods' and 'moon goddesses' abound. Also she quotes widely from the 'Orphic' gold tablets whose connection to Orpheus' mystery cult is doubtful. I would recommend Segal's 'Orpheus: myth of the poet' or Henry's 'Orpheus with His Lute: Poetry and the Renewal of Life' for a more scholarly approach that covers a similar range or material with more discrimination.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars orpheus revisited 29 Sep 2011
this is a beautifully written book, that combines serious research into the Orpheus myth way beyond its classical form: a very daring enterprise, but it's a wonderful, poetic read
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