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Orpheus: The Song of Life
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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.

Ann Wroe is the Briefings and Obituaries Editor of the Economist. After taking a degree in History and a doctorate in medieval history (Oxford, 1975) she worked at the BBC World Service, covering French and Italian politics. She joined the Economist in 1976 to cover American politics, and has held the posts of Books and Arts editor (1988-1992) and American editor (1992-2000). She has written five books: Lives, Lies and the Iran-Contra Affair; A Fool and His Money: Life in a Partitioned Medieval Town; Pilate: The Biography of an Invented Man; Perkin: A Story of Deception and Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature. She is married with three sons and lives in London

About the Author

Ann Wroe is the Briefings and Obituaries Editor of the Economist. After taking a degree in History and a doctorate in medieval history (Oxford, 1975) she worked at the BBC World Service, covering French and Italian politics. She joined the Economist in 1976 to cover American politics, and has held the posts of Books and Arts editor (1988-1992) and American editor (1992-2000). She has written five books- Lives, Lies and the Iran-Contra Affair; A Fool and His Money- Life in a Partitioned Medieval Town; Pilate- The Biography of an Invented Man; Perkin- A Story of Deception and Being Shelley- The Poet's Search for Himself. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature. She is married with three sons and lives in London

Reviews

Western icon and poets' poet, Orpheus is so mutable that, like many figures of ancient religious traditions, it's difficult to tell where reality leaves off and myth begins. Wroe (Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself), a writer and editor for the Economist, seeks out the archetypal dimensions of her exquisite figure, one discovered not only in Greek and Roman writings but also in Hindu Vedas, Babylonian scripture, and Irish stories. She is deliberately less clear in separating story from fact. Real or not, as supposed inventor of the alphabet, Orpheus remains male muse to writers and composers as diverse as Rilke, Anouilh, Valery, Bacon, Plato (who was not known for worshipping at the gooey altar of art), Ovid, Cocteau, Milosz, Monteverdi, and more. Orpheus even passes from history in a Christ-like manner; overtly identified with Jesus by the fifth century, he is said to have been violently killed at sunset. It remains unclear whether the musician-poet is buried in the foothills of Mount Olympus or near lesser known Kardzhali in Bulgaria. Wroe develops her odd blending of real and unreal, somewhat reminiscent of the writing of Edith Hamilton, within seven chapters, one for each string of Orpheus's lyre, and the book sings in a learned, singular manner. Agent: Andrew Wiley, The Wiley Agency. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Wroe (senior editor, Economist; Being Shelley: The Poet's Search for Himself) 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. It's mildly frustrating when one can't identify the source of an allusion-the book has no notes-but the tradeoff is worth it because Wroe succeeds in making the reader feel what it might have been like to follow Orpheus, who preached a universe in which "everything, from the atoms to the stars, moved in circles of reciprocal desire, and Love made everything dance." The appeal of this "first singer of holy songs," who quieted birds and made streams and mountains follow in his footsteps, has persisted: modern thinkers as disparate as Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Cocteau, and Anouilh have written about him, and Rilke is virtually Wroe's guide throughout this book, as the poet composes his dazzling sonnets to Orpheus in a whirl of creativity that is very much Orphic in its intensity. VERDICT This is a brilliant book. The reader will come away with a new appreciation and understanding of the power and beauty of the Orpheus myth.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

"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 *

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