Monday, May 21, 2012


Coming this week from Overlook, a new book exploring the mythological biography of history's first poet, Orpheus: The Song of Life by Economist editor Ann Wroe.

Perhaps you've heard Orpheus's song. The story of "the young man with the lyre" has been told and retold across the ages. A king, a shaman, and a traveler through the realms of the dead, his music has the power to change landscapes, seasons, and hearts. Since the dawn of time, his figure has wandered history through the evocation of countless poets, artists, and composers. Half-man, half-god, musician, magician, theologian, poet and lover we've seen him tantalizing Cicero and Plato, breathing new music in Gluck and Monteverdi, occupying the mind of Jung and the surreal dreams of Cocteau, and scandalizing the Fathers of the early Church.

In Orpheus, Ann Wroe journeys to discover the origins of the evanescent wizard wonderer, tracing both the man and power he represents through the myriad versions of a fantastical life. Inspired by a sequence of sonnets composed by Rilke in the space of weeks beginning in 1922, Wroe draws on all available sources, both ancient and modern including those attributed to Orpheus himself, to form the coherent life story of history's first great artist and muse. Divided into seven chapters, each representing a string of Orpheus's lyre, Wroe captures the influence of her subject on a veritable pantheon of writers and musicians including Ovid, Virgil, Milton, Shelley, and Keats as well as a host of others. More than a simple retelling of the Orpheus legend, under Wroe's creative spell this genre-defying synthesis of history, biography, and criticism pays homage to a character whose life we may not fully understand, but whose legacy continues to remain foundational to our own.

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

"A transformative adventure of myth ... A book to make readers laugh, sing, and weep." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

"The book sings in a learned, singular manner." Publishers Weekly

"Wroe 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." Library Journal

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