Retelling Orpheus: Orpheus in the Renaissance
This paper examines the importance of the Orpheus myth during the English Renaissance. The Orpheus myth was one of the most common mythic intertexts of the period due to the fact that we could see the very story of Orpheus as being imbedded within the idea of the Renaissance itself. The main ambition of the Renaissance humanist was to bring the literature of the ancients back to life via the means of education. In other words, they attempted to bring the dead back to life and Orpheus serves as an embodiment of this ambition due to his ability to bring inanimate objects to life and in his journey to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. We find many different aspects of the Orpheus myth dealt with in Renaissance writing, for example Orpheus as poet, Orpheus as lover and the death of Orpheus being some of the key focal points. This paper, however, will focus specifically on the role of Orpheus as Poet as, due to the Renaissance love for art, rhetoric and eloquence, this seems to be the most popular dimension of the Orpheus myth at that time. We will see how Renaissance writers reinterpret the story of Orpheus, as originally told by Ovid and Virgil, in the Metamorphoses and the Georgics respectively, to show Orpheus as not only as being an archetypal poet but in fact the very first poet whose art is not only responsible for the civilisation of man, but also for the creation of a “Golden Age” in Renaissance England.
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