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About the book
  • Published: 15 July 2012
  • ISBN: 9781845951689
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $39.99


The Song of Life

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.

Orpheus has haunted man’s consciousness from his birth, at the foot of Mount Olympus, to the muse Calliope, and the god Apollo. He appears in various guises: Greek Orpheus is naked but for a short cloak; in the East he wears a baggy trousers and a turban; Thracian Orpheus is disguised by a thick cloak and cone-shaped hat. The 'father of songs', his lyre is ever-present at his side, and his music entrances everything in its range; animals, trees, stones, water and men.

In this extraordinary work Ann Wroe examines the evidence of Orpheus's life, from the mountains where he walked and the temples where he worshipped, to the many artefacts and texts in which he appears. She recreates the image of Orpheus through the ages, melded to the myths, fables and lessons that have grown up around him: of his birth, his voyage on the Argonaut, his love for Eurydice and journey to Hades, and his terrible death. Beginning in antiquity, we follow the poet from a sixth-century BC vase to his descriptions in the work of Pindar, Aristotle, Ovid, and Cicero; from biblical texts, medieval and Renaissance painting and manuscripts to the works of Chaucer to Wordsworth and Rilke; appearing and reappearing to inspire and seize hold of the imagination throughout history.

  • Pub date: 15 July 2012
  • ISBN: 9781845951689
  • Imprint: Pimlico
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $39.99

About the Author

Ann Wroe

Ann Wroe is the Briefings and Obituaries editor of The Economist. She is the author of seven previous works of non-fiction, including Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Award and the W.H. Smith Award. She lives in north London.

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Praise for Orpheus

“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”


“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”

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”

John Banville, Guardian

“Curious... there are moments of sublime writing”

Scotland on Sunday

“strange, original”

Sunday Times

“This one really is a song ... It evokes, but it also embodies, its subject”

Brian Morton, Tablet

“a dense, vigorous portrait”

Maggie Fergusson, Intelligent Life

“Manages, in prose both rhapsodic and precise, to convey the allure of the legendary bard from ancient Greece to modern times. This myth has flowered into truth”

Boyd Tonkin, Independent, Books of the Year

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