Harmony and the Myth of Orpheus

Scholar Jules Cashford discusses the myths of Orpheus, part of which include a search for the essence that can bring about transformation and a discovery of the innate harmony within human beings in relation to each other and to the greater reality of the universe.


Fig. 1. Orpheus playing to entranced Thracians, with their fox–skin caps and long heavy embroidered cloaks. Orpheus by contrast is dressed as a Greek. His left hand has the look of a bird with outstretched feathers, singing as he plays.

Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. 440 BC.

Shakespeare in Two Gentlemen of Verona gives us the magic of Orpheus:

For Orpheus’ lute  was strung with poets’ sinews,
Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame, and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands…

In ancient Greece, Orpheus was a man who sang like a god, confusing the categories of conventional thought. When Orpheus sang, and played the lute or the lyre, the human and the divine became one harmonious whole.

So who was Orpheus? When Orpheus first appears in Ancient Greece in the mid–6th century BC he is already famous. Ibycus, the lyric poet from the island of Samos (the island where Pythagoras was born), refers to an ‘Orpheus–famous–of–name’ – a word resonant of Greek orphne, the ‘darkness of night.’ In the early 5th century BC, a fragment from Simonides of Chios says simply:

And countless birds flew above his head
and fish leapt straight up from the dark–blue water
in time with his lovely song. 2

After this, it is as though the excitement of this possibility – that a singer could draw the creatures of air and sea towards him, that the natural and human worlds might sing in harmony to the same song – inspires so many poets, dramatists and philosophers, that the story of Orpheus grows and grows until it reaches the boundaries of life and death.

The Lyric Poet Pindar calls Orpheus the ‘Father of Songs,’ and identifies him as the son of the Muse, Kalliope, and the Thracian king, Oeagrus. Aeschylus tells of trees, charmed by his lyre, following after him. Euripides’ Chorus, in The Bacchae, search for the god Dionysos in the forests of Olympus where ‘once Orpheus, playing on his lyre, gathered the trees with his song, gathered the wild animals.’The legends proliferate down the centuries with a common core to them all: the unifying of nature and human nature, disclosing at the heart the essential harmony between them. Animals, wild and tame, flock to Orpheus, sit entranced at his feet; predator and prey lose their fear of each other and of human beings, who in turn lose their fear of each other and wild animals; trees uproot themselves for joy; even boulders, ‘insensate rocks,’ as Ovid calls them,follow him. Even in the 20thcentury, the poet Rilke is still listening to him:

‘There soared a tree, O pure upsoaring!

O Orpheus sings! O tall tree in the ear! 5

We might say, with Orpheus, we are given an image of the ecstatic power of Imagination – the magic of his lyre which sang the Song of the Universe – so that the hearts of all who heard him come alive and are brought into harmony with each other and with the whole. It makes no difference whether they are humans, animals, birds, fish, trees, rocks or waves – all are purified and restored to their original participation in the eternal, which gives them the freedom to change their natures. This is a story with the consciousness of the Unus Mundus, the fundamental unity of the world. Philosophers described themselves as returned to their divine nature, to Arche, the first principle: the Pythagoreans, followers of Orpheus, expressed this as Number; while for Plato, known as the Orphic’s philosopher, the Arche was Harmony and the Music of the Spheres. Harmonia was his term for the right tuning of the Soul.

The Egyptian scholar Schwaller de Lubitz writes of this:

The principle of harmony is a cosmic law, the Voice of God. Whatever be the disorder that man or fortuitous natural accident may provoke, Nature, left to herself, will put everything in order again through affinities (the consciousness in all things). Harmony is the a priori Law written in all of Nature; it imposes itself on our intelligence, yet it is in itself incomprehensible. 6

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, this vision of harmony is expressed by Lorenzo to his love Jessica:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Sit Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold.

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls.

But whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 7

In these terms, perhaps, Orpheus, playing his lyre, allows us to hear the harmony of the universe in our own immortal souls. Orpheus would then be the initiator into unfathomable depths, whose power transforms the whole of the natural world, including ourselves. In his myths there is a search for what that secret is, asking what is the essence that can bring about transformation? When an image continues to inspire for over two and a half thousand years, then we can assume it is telling us something about the truths of human nature and the nature of the world.

In the origins given to Orpheus we can see the magnificent Greek idea of the lineage and power of poetry, music and song. The mother of Orpheus, Kalliope, was the eldest of nine Muses born to the Great Goddess of Memory – Mnemosune, or Mnemosyne, as she becomes in English, who, like many of the other Greek goddesses and gods, may have come from Crete (c. 1500 BC) 8

In Hesiod’s Theogony, written c. 700 BC, Mnemosyne belongs to the Olympian version of creation, as one of the twelve original children of Earth and Heaven, known as the Titans,among whom were Kronos (Time), Themis (Law), Rhea (the Flowing One), and Mnemosyne, (Memory).This tells us that the idea of Memory, along with Time, Lawfulness and Movement, among others, belongs to the structure of consciousness – the archetypal realm of the psyche – such that consciousness cannot be conceived without it.

In the next stage of creation, Rhea and Kronos give birth to three daughters – Hestia, Demeter, and Hera – and three sons – Poseidon, Hades, and lastly Zeus, whose name, from its Indo–European roots, means ‘Light’ and ‘Day,’ or, in its original verbal form, a ‘Lighting up.’10 Zeus unites with ‘Mnemosyne of the Beautiful Hair,’ who gives birth to nine daughters, the Muses, all of one mind, their one thought singing and dancing, and their hearts free from care. Kalliope, the first-born Muse, ‘She of the Beautiful Voice,’ became the Mother of Orpheus, uniting either with the Thracian king Oeagrus, as Pindar says, or with the god Apollo, as others say, or, as it were, both – giving him human anddivine parentage, as though he were indeed half man, half god.


Fig. 2. Mnemosyne, standing, holds the scroll of Memory, looking down upon Kalliope, who plays the lyre as though she is playing the song inscribed in her mother’s scroll, knowing it by heart. Lekythos, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Siracusa. 5th century, BC.

There is an Orphic Hymn to nemosyne, written sometime between 300 BC and 300 AD:

Mnemosyne I call, the Queen, consort of Zeus,
Mother of the sacred, holy and sweet–voiced Muses.
Ever alien to her is evil oblivion that harms the mind,
she holds all things in the mind and soul of mortals
together in the same dwelling place,
she strengthens the powerful ability of humans to think.
Most sweet, vigilant, she reminds us of all the thoughts
that each one of us is for ever storing in our hearts,
overlooking nothing, rousing everyone to consciousness.
Blessed goddess, awaken for the initiates the memory
of the sacred rite, and banish forgetfulness from them.11

We can see that Mnemosyne is a more comprehensive idea than our Memory, closer to what W.B. Yeats calls the Great Memory, which he calls ‘the Memory of Nature.’12 She is conceived not only as an inexhaustible store of all the facts in the world, but as the timeless figure of origin pregnant with the forms that are to come. So she contains in herself both what we might in general terms think of as analogous to the human faculty of memory, which stores and restores the past and so structures categories of perception and thought, but also she gives birth to the Muses, whom we might more usually associate with Imagination. The myth asks us to consider the close, even inseparable, relation between the Great Memory and Imagination, a relation essential to Yeats’s thinking over 2000 years later.

When the Muses, as daughters of Mnemosyne, are asked to remember the past, they are asked to bring back not just the facts but to imagine the original whole, the structure of feeling which gave these facts value, that which makes them worth remembering. This is what infuses the theme and manner of the poet’s song so it becomes poetry. The gift of the Muses was then the power of true speech, and the poet was known as the ‘servant’ of the Muses, 13 dependent ultimately on ‘the Muse’ for inspiration, as poets have said ever since. They point to the dimension in any creative work, which is not chosen but ‘given’ – it comes upon us and takes us away – and for the Greeks ‘given’ meant ‘divinely given.’

In Greek legend, Orpheus came from Thrace. His story, like that of Pythagoras and Plato, says he went to study in Egypt. His magical lyre was a gift from Apollo, leader of the Muses, who was given it himself by Hermes, god of Imagination, who had invented and constructed it. 14 When Orpheus came back he was sent by Apollo to join the Argonauts in their quest for the golden fleece, and, in various versions, he stopped a fight between the sailors by singing of the origin of creation, after which their oars pulled to the rhythm of his song. Later, in a fierce storm, he sang more sweetly than the Sirens, those who had lured Odysseus’s men and ships to their death, calming the waves. 15 On his return he married Euridyce, who was an oak nymph and/or a daughter of Apollo. She did not live long.

Virgil, in his Georgics (29 BC),was the first to look for a reason. Euridyce encountered yet another son of Apollo, Aristaeus, a man versed in the art of bee-keeping.  Aristaeus molested her, and as she fled from him a serpent bit her in the ankle and she died of the bite. 16 Ovid in his Metamorphoses (8 AD) sees Euridyce as a newly wedded bride walking through the grass, but disturbing a snake sheltering there, as the omens of Hymen – the torch sputtering and not lighting, the tear–provoking fumes – had foretold at her wedding. 17

The story of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld first appears in Euripides’ play Alcestis (438 BC), and is elaborated in Virgil and Ovid, among others.18 Orpheus goes down to the underworld to ask Hades to let Euridyce come back to him, and when he sang he entranced the entire world of the dead. Charon, the Ferryman, and Cerberus, the three–headed dog, allowed him to enter the underworld without protest. The cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears. Sisyphus stopped rolling his stone uphill. Tantalus ceased being thirsty. Ixion stepped off his wheel. His song changed the reality of all who heard him. Hades and Persephone were delighted to see him. No–one could resist him. But Hades made one condition: Walk ahead of her and don’t look back until you are both in the Upper World.

Fig. 3. Orpheus, on the right, in a peaked Thracian cap, holding his lyre in his left hand, bringing Euridyce out of Hades, with Hermes on the left. They are both tenderly touching Euridyce, who is veiled. This is the moment when Orpheus turns to look back for Euridyce, and Hermes lays his hand gently on her arm to take her down to the underworld.  

Marble relief. The Louvre. 420 BC.

Rilke’s poem, Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes, ends on this moment:

She was already root.
And when abruptly,
the god had halted her and, with an anguished
outcry, outspoke the words: He has turned round! –
she took in nothing, and said softly: Who?
But in the distance, dark in the bright exit,
someone or other stood, whose countenance
was indistinguishable. Stood and saw
how, on a strip of pathway between meadows,
with sorrow in his look, the god of message
turned silently to go behind the figure
already going back by that same pathway,
in paces circumscribed by lengthy shroudings,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.

But why did Orpheus look back? The story is often taken as a myth of failure: that he didn’t love her enough, and didn’t have the courage to die for her himself, as Alcestis had offered to do for her husband, Admetus. This is the view of Phaedrus in Plato’s Symposium. 20 Admetus himself, who had happily accepted his wife’s offer, manages to convince himself that if he’d been Orpheus he would have brought her back! 21 Virgil puts it down to ‘a sudden frenzy’ (dementia) which seized him, and then ‘suddenly she vanished from his eyes, like smoke dissolving in a sigh of air.’ 22 Ovid has Orpheus telling Persephone – playing the lyre as he speaks – that he came to the underworld because Love won over Death, and he would not return without her: ‘You can delight in both our deaths.’  Yet, ‘drawing near to the threshold of the upper world, afraid she was not there and eager to see her, the lover turns his eyes.’ 23

Taking the myth personally allows the thought that if some slight adjustment could be made – a different character perhaps, ours maybe? – all would be well. But if we stand back, we might wonder if the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce could be seen as a tableau of consciousness, one which warns and reminds us of the laws and conditions of the underworld or the unconscious: that those who enter it must go with utmost attention and respect, so as to discover and remember its laws. It is only when returning – like waking from a dream, struggling for a fleeting image, words of a poem, the fading glimpse of a wholly new thought – that we realize we had received a gift– one far beyond us – and typically receding in proportion to the consciousness we bring to bear upon it, as it vanishes back into the dark…

When Orpheus and Euridyce were together as one, he played the harmonies of the universe, and the universe responded to his song. When he lost her, not once but twice, he played no more; he was dismembered and his head cut from his body. So, this story asks an urgent question: what is it in us that needs to be in harmony so that we too may participate in – and ourselves contribute to – the harmony of the world? Where are we out of harmony?

What does it mean that Orpheus looks back at Euridyce just after he crosses the threshold into the Upper World – entering at the same time the daylight consciousness that goes with it. It was, inevitably, before Euridyce had joined him, as Hades knew it would be, and at this point Orpheus would be at his most vulnerable, just as he is caught back into the senses and their polarisations: Is she there or not there?And he has to know. So, forgetting the law, the condition which would have sustained him in his Imagination, he turns and looks instead with his eyes, and so loses her – his wife, his muse, his soul, his vision and eventually his life. So why could he not wait? Is it that falling back into the senses too precipitately, without, as it were, ‘postponing’ their claims for as long as possible, refusing their immediate demand for clarity, for orientation, for gratification, peace of mind, illusion – anything, ultimately, to appease only himself – is it that which prevents him imagining their reunion, and restoring the innate harmony in his heart?  Without Imagination did he lose compassion?

In Blake’s terms, he looks with single vision and ‘Newton’s sleep,’ not with ‘double vision,’ the Imagination which holds the inner and outer eye together without having to distinguish between them, so that the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ become one. 24 Could he, once he was out into the sun, no longer feel Euridyce walking behind him, no longer share as his own her last slow steps out of the gloom, so close – did he have to see her to know? Was this his conditionwhich he had no right to make? – distrusting, in that terrible moment of anguish, his own unsurpassable gift of Imagination?  Had Orpheus forgotten that he was permitted to enter the underworld as a poet – his lyre and his singing opening the way for him, allowing him to move ever deeper into its dark unconscious depths – but, returning, once he had crossed the threshold back into the light of the conscious mind, he was but a man?

Harmony and Myth

But what is myth? In its origin the word ‘myth’ comes from the Greek muthos, meaning, firstly, something spoken by word of mouth and, secondly, a story, typically a sacred story – the two meanings together putting us in touch with the oldest oral tradition of the Homeric bards who for centuries told stories of goddesses and gods to their enchanted communities, uniting their listeners in a shared universe of wonder:

‘Sing, Muses, with your sweet voices,

Sing, daughters of Zeus, weavers of song,

Sing us the story of the long-winged Moon.’  25

Before philosophy and, later, science became separate disciplines of their own, the poetic images of myth were the central way in which people addressed the immediate contingencies of daily life, and also thought through the unanswerable questions of life and death. This was speculative thought in that it transcended experience in order to explain and unify experience. Like later thinking, predicated on clear definition and explicit statement, these early modes of thought began with a hypothesis. It may have been a living presence – a goddess or a god; it may have taken the form of an animal or bird, or manifested as Moon, Sun or Earth – but it was no less an attempt to reach for an idea that would reveal patterns and structures and make sense of a mysterious world. In this sense myth is not a way of thinking superseded by reflective thought; it is the original and living impulse of philosophy.

Early speculations found their way through an imaginative sympathy, which included the entire relationship of people to their world. And – since this was a mutual process – this sympathy included the way the world related to human beings. For the world of early people was a Thou, not an It, a presence both numinous and personal, and so a Subject in the dialectic of thinking, not an inanimate object of thought. The life-forms of what we now call Nature (and forget that the name, and the idea, is a relatively late abstraction, introduced in 600 BC in Greece) 26 was once not distinguished from humankind: as equally living beings, they belonged to the same continuum of feeling, and did not, therefore, have to be apprehended by different modes of cognition. We have always to remember that the ancient imagination was concrete, embedded in and rising out of deeply lived experience, similar, in this respect, to poetry of all ages. It was not that early people did not think philosophically; it was that ‘the good,’ ‘the true’ and ‘the beautiful’ were once good, true and beautiful things, and these ‘things’ were personalities, activities, cosmic events – all that composes a world of value.

One of the discoveries of Psychology in the last century has been to show that myths structure our thinking whether we are aware of them or not. We all, as a race, culture, and an individual, have a story about the world in which we live, and about our place and purpose in it. No culture has been without its story of the universe, however early or late – can we even imagine having no story at all? It seems that ‘the sacred’ – and so myth as the story of the sacred – is part of the structure of the human psyche. It is not something characteristic of early cultures which later cultures grow out of as they become more sophisticated. For Jung, ‘the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious,’ the archetypal layer of the psyche of any age. 27 What the stories have in common is that they are all constructions of the human psyche. They have to be, because the world is not given as fact but inhabited through interpretation.

As Rilke says, we live in an ‘interpreted world,’ 28 and so we turn to myth – as story, image, song, dance, art and pre-eminently poem – which celebrates what is, and restores what is felt to be missing by creating a place for that loss within a greater harmony. As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell has said:

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind… [But] whenever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history or science, it is killed.29

However, the actual Greek term ‘muthos,’ myth, was translated as ‘fabula’ in Latin, and in Early Roman Christianity was often used  to mean something fabulous, made-up, typically as a way of dismissing so-called ‘pagan’ belief – as in Egyptian myth, Greek mythology (though it is not as pejorative as ‘cult’ or idol,’ terms which implicitly deny sacredness to any religious practice but our own). The supposed inferiority of ‘myth’ in this sense may have given us the colloquial use of the term as a fable, fantasy or illusion – ‘it’s just a myth.’  But in its original meaning it was understood as a form of poetic vision, offering truths about human nature and visionary truths about the nature of the universe which  we cannot reach through our rational minds alone.

Myths are ultimately forms of the human Imagination – metaphors of states of being realizable within us, and one of the ways in which we come to know ourselves is to make these potentialities visible in our images of goddesses and gods and in our visions of the universe. What appears to be constant in myths from all over the world is their striving for a vision of harmony between the universe and all the creatures within it, including ourselves.

The very term ‘harmony’ – deriving from the Greek ‘harmos’ – meaning literally a ‘joint,’ soon opens into metaphor as harmonia, a ‘joining together,’ hence a ‘uniting’ of otherwise disparate parts. Pythagoras, relating numerical ratios to music, saw the world not simply as cosmos, an ordering of original chaos, but as a state of Harmonia, a ‘Being in Tune.’  The Latin harmonia, and Old French ‘harmonie’ come to mean a ‘concord of sounds,’ in which the individual notes compose the harmony of the whole, and the term was first registered in English in 1602. It is found three years later in Shakespeare’s ‘orbs’ singing in their motion like angels – the ‘music of the spheres’ – which reverberates in the human soul: ‘such harmony is in immortal souls…’  In later philosophies, such as Leibnitz’s ‘pre-established harmony’ and Schopenhauer’s ‘pre-existent harmony’ the idea comes close to a universal sympathy, something which is also implied in Jung’s exploration of synchronicity – events related not by cause but through an underlying meaning. 30

However, while Orpheus pre-eminently discloses the myth of harmony in Greek thought, the archetypal image and symbol of this harmony everywhere is ‘the Soul of the World.’

Harmony and the Soul of the World

The mystery of the One becoming many while being eternally One has often been understood as the mystery of the Divine becoming immanent as creation while being transcendent to creation, such that the created universe participates in the divinity of the Creative Source.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful metaphors of this mystery,from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, is Indra’s Net, where the universe is conceived as an infinite net woven of interlocking threads. Wherever the threads cross there is a clear shining pearl which reflects and is itself reflected in every other pearl in an infinite pattern of reflections.  Each pearl is an individual consciousness – whether of a human being, an animal, a plant, a cell or an atom – so a change in one pearl, however small, makes a change in all the other pearls, each one both singular and responsive to the whole. This vision sees the universe as a sparkling iridescent whole, shimmering with visible and invisible life – the way the heavens might look if we saw them at night, not from our own planet, nor from any one star in particular, but from a perspective of all stars at once, all dynamically moving and changing – something impossible to comprehend with our temporal discriminating minds.

The idea of the Soul of the World is shared by many traditions under many names, whether conceived as identical with the Creative Source, or the way in which that Creative Source manifests itself to those created. In eastern philosophy, it is found in the Taoin Taoism, the Brahman-Atman of Hinduism, and the Qiin Confucianism. In the west, the Soul of the World has come down to us through Plato (c. 429-347 BC). In Plato’s Timaeus, the Demiourgos, who is identical with Universal Intelligence (Nous), and with Good (Agathon), creates the universe ‘in the image of its maker.’ In some interpretations, the Demiourgos and the Soul of the World (Psuche tou kosmou)are read as the same, and in others the Demiourgos is understood to be external to his creation. But, either way, the world is alive with soul and intelligence:

‘Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with soul and intelligence… a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.’31

 Plato’s word for ‘living being’ is ‘Zo-on’, a term which in Greek meant ‘infinite life’ and was contrasted to Bios which was finite life, from which we get biography. In Plato’s cosmology, the infinite, as the Soul of the World, contains the finite – the souls of ‘other living entities’ – and relates them all to each other so that Zoe and Bios are shown to be intrinsically one. In a parallel way, this relation between Zoe and Bios is evocative of his idea of time as ‘a moving image of eternity.’ ‘Zoe’ is a term full of resonances. In rituals to Dionysos, when his followers drank the wine in which the god came alive to them within themselves, they were said to drink the ‘Zoe’ of the god.32 Likewise, the song of Orpheus conveyed his listeners from a world of Bios to a world of Zoe. Many rituals can be understood in these terms.

The idea of the Soul of the World was taken up by Jewish mystics in the Shekinah, Christian mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, and many philosophers and poets, including Plotinus, Peter Aberlard who translated Plato’s Psuche tou Kosmou into Anima Mundi in the twelfth century, Hegel, Leibniz, Schelling, Spinoza, Paracelsus, Goethe, Swedenborg, Walt Whitman, Blake and the Romantic poets, among many others. Some of the Gnostics saw it as the Anthropos, the Original Man. In medieval times it was known as the Great Chain of Being, the Alchemists called it the Golden Chain. Chief Seattle saw it as the Great Web of Life, Rilke as the ‘Great Golden Hive of the Invisible,’ Yeats as the ‘Great Memory.’ We could ask now whether the idea of ‘Gaia’ might be a new expression of the Soul of the World?

Yet the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (written down around 150 AD) was already a supreme embodiment of this vision. Jesus says: ‘I am the All.’ And this is an ‘All’ inclusive of everything: ‘Cleave a piece of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find Me there.’33 Here, the ‘All’ is in the insects beneath the stone, inside the splinters in a grain of wood. This he calls the ‘Kingdom’ or the ‘Kingdom of the Father,’ existing not only within the hearts of human beings but immanent in all things – ‘spread upon the earth.’

His disciples said to Him: When will the kingdom come? Jesus said: It will not come by expectation; they will not say: “See, here”, or “See there”. But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.34

 In the 20th century Aldous Huxley named this tradition the Perennial Philosophy, which, as its name suggests, is beyond any specific time or place and so transcends any particular tribe, nation or religion, while affirming the unity of all religions in their common impulse.35 It holds that the archetypal image of the divine or the sacred is common to all human beings, and is manifest and incarnate in the whole Earth and all life on Earth, not only the human beings who give it a name. It is already inherent in, and flows from, the idea of a universe of harmony, acting like an underground stream of wisdom coming to the surface in times of change: for instance, the 1st to 3rd centuries AD – the time of Jesus and the Gnostics; the 12th and 13th centuries – Dante, and the myths of the Holy Grail;  Ficino and the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, the Romantic poets in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, Rilke, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Jung and Joseph Campbell, among others. Jung saw the Anima Mundi in the Alchemical figure of Mercurius, ‘coinciding’ with the Collective Unconscious;36 Campbell saw the Soul of the World in the universal dimension of myths throughout the world, those aspects of myth common to all people, as distinct from theirs specific, local inflection.

In Yeats’s terms this is a joining of the personal memory to the Great Memory: ‘Our little memories,’ he says, ‘are but a part of some Great Memory that renews the world and men’s thoughts age after age, and …our thoughts are not, as we suppose, the deep, but a little foam upon the deep… Memory is also a dwelling–house of symbols, of images that are living souls…’37 In his ‘Essay on Magic’ he writes that ‘Whatever the passions of man have gathered about, becomes a symbol in the Great Memory,’ and this Great Memory or Mind, or Soul of the World, may  be ‘evoked by symbols’ through Imagination.38 For this Memory is, as he says, ‘still the Mother of the Muses, though men no longer believe in it.’39 And, he adds, is not ‘Imagination …always seeking to remake the world according to the impulses and the patterns in that Great Mind, and that Great Memory?’40




Harmony and the Myth of Orpheus 

  1. Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona, III, ii, 78–81.
  2. Simonides, Fragment 62 (c. 556–458 BC). Greek Lyric, v, 3, trans. David A. Campbell, Loeb Classical Library, 1991.
  3. Euripides, The Bacchae,trans. William Arrowsmith, Greek Tragedies, vol. 3, ed. David Grene and Richard Lattimore, p. 217, lines 560–4.
  4. Ovid, MetamorphosesX, 1–85.
  5. Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, I, Trans. Robert Bly, Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1981, p. 195.
  6. R. A. Schwaller de Lubitz, Le Roi de la theocratie pharaonique, quoted in Lucie Lamy, Egyptian Mysteries, London, Thames & Hudson, 1981, p. 17.
  7. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, V, i, 52–63.
  8. Karl Kerenyi, Zeus and Hera: Archetypal Image of Father, Husband and Wife, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, p. 79.
  9. Hesiod, Theogony, trans. Dorothea Wender, London, Penguin Classics, 1976, lines 53–65.
  10. Ibid., lines 77-99. See Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image,London, Penguin, 1993, ch. 8, pp. 299–310.
  11. Trans. Jules Cashford, fromOrphic Hymns,ed. and trans., Apostolos N. Athanassakis, Atlanta, Scholars Press for the Society of Biblical Literature, 1977, No. 77, pp. 99–101.
  12. W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions,London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1961, p. 50.
  13. ‘Hymn to The Muses and Apollo,’ The Homeric Hymns, trans. Jules Cashford, London, Penguin Classics, 2003, p. 130.
  14. ‘Hymn to Hermes,’ The Homeric Hymns,pp. 55-84.
  15. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica. 3rdcentury BC.
  16. Virgil, Georgics, IV, lines 458–60.
  17. Ovid, Metamorphoses,X, lines 1–85.
  18. Virgil, Georgics,IV, lines 453–527. Ovid, Metamorphosis,X, lines 1–85; XI, 1–66.
  19. Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems, Part 1, trans. J.B. Leishman, Selected Poems, London, Penguin Books, 1964, pp. 41–2.
  20. Plato, The Symposium, 179c – 180e.
  21. Euripides, Alcestis, Greek Tragedies, vol. 3, David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, eds., Chicago & London, Phoenix Books, 1960, pp. 265–311.
  22. Virgil, Georgics, IV, lines 486–90.
  23. Ovid, Metamorphoses,X, 1–85.
  24. William Blake, in G. Keynes, ed., Blake: Complete Poetry and Prose, London, Nonesuch Press, 1961, p. 860.

Harmony and Myth

  1. ‘Hymn to Selene,’ The Homeric Hymns, p. 141.
  2. C.S. Lewis.The Discarded Image,Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1964, pp. 36-9. See Jules Cashford, The Moon: Symbol of Transformation (rev. colour edition), Carterton, Oxfordshire, The Greystones Press, 2016,,p. 189ff.
  3. C.G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 152, para 325.
  4. Rilke, The Duino Elegies, I, 10-13. Trans. J.B.Leishman and Stephen Spender, London, Chatto & Windus, 1975.
  5. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces,Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1968, pp. 13; 249.
  6. Jung, CW8, p. 435, para. 840.

Harmony and the Soul of the World

  1. Plato, The Timaeus, 29/30.
  2. Karl Kerenyi, Dionysos:Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, Bollingen Series,

LXV:2, trans. Ralph Mannheim, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1976, Introduction, p. xxxv and passim.

  1. The Gospel According To Thomas, Coptic Text established and translated by A. Guillaumont et al., Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1976, Logion 77.
  2. Ibid., Logion 99.
  3. Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy,London, Chatto & Windus, 1945. See Kathleen Raine, Defending Ancient Springs,Suffolk,Golgonooza Books, 1985,pp. 74, 93, et passim.
  4. Jung, CW12, p. 188, para 265.
  5. Yeats, op. cit.,pp. 28; 50.

38.Ibid., p. 50.

39.Ibid., p. 91.

40.Ibid., p. 52.

Jules is a writer and lecturer on Mythology with a background in Philosophy and Literature. She was a Supervisor in Literature at Cambridge for some years, before training as a Jungian Analyst. Jules is the author of The Moon: Symbol of Transformation (2016), Gaia: Story of Origin to Universe Story (The Gaia Foundation, 2012), The Mysteries of Osiris (2010), co-author of The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (Penguin, 1993), and translator of The Homeric Hymns  (Penguin Classics , 2003). She has written a number of booklets on the Imagination, made two films on the Early Northern Renaissance Painter, Jan van Eyck with Kingfisher Art Productions, and also an App and CD for young children called Songs of the Animals. She is a member of the International Association of Analytical Psychology (IAAP) and a Fellow of the Temenos Academy.

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Adrian Steele
Adrian Steele
10th February 2020 6:27 pm

Brilliant article; so glad I was able to read it; always puzzled over Orpheus /Eurydice; thank you!

Frank Hoeger
Frank Hoeger
7th July 2020 12:16 pm

Brilliant, dense and harmonic thoughts, mostly overlooked. Opening many doors to greater contexts in something that we think as a well known story… thank you

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