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Lyra constellation and the myth of Orpheus lyre history of a musical instrument in the sky


The Lyra constellation, represented by a lyre, is one of the most ancient constellations in the night sky. It has been known and appreciated for centuries for its stylized representation of the mythical instrument played by Orpheus.

For ancient Greeks and other cultures since then, the stars that make up this constellation have held a special meaning – as an icon of music and storytelling.

The famous myth of Orpheus, son of Apollo and Calliope (muse of Eloquence), tells how he was born to possess such musical gifts that creatures wild and tame alike followed him while he played his golden lyre. In addition to providing comfort to those who listened to his music, Orpheus’ melodies could even command nature: rocks moved on their own when they heard him play.

Orpheus’ fame spread throughout the ancient world and across centuries; his story became interwoven with many other legends and stories based on similar themes – love, courage, endurance – all within one captivating narrative. With such a powerful legacy attached to it, it’s no surprise that people have been fascinated with Orpheus’ lyre ever since. The stars representing these symbols were eventually turned into their own official constellation – Lyra – and continue to remember one of the oldest musical instruments in our skies today.

The Myth of Orpheus

Ancient Greek mythology tells of the tragic story of the musician Orpheus and his lyre, whose compelling melodies could even charm the birds from the trees. This mythical narrative has endured for centuries and is still alive in the night sky today.

For thousands of years, the constellation of Lyra has stood for the legendary lyre that Orpheus once played before Hades, the god of the underworld. Let’s explore the ancient myth and its place in the stars.

The Story of Orpheus

Orpheus was a legendary musician and poet of Ancient Greek mythology who is best known for his pivotal role in Hesiod’s tale ‘The Argonautica’. He was renowned for his beautiful voice, exceptional skills on the lyre, and ability to charm wild beasts with his music.

According to the ancient Greek myths, Orpheus’ parents were Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope. After being blessed with divine musical abilities by Apollo himself, Orpheus went on to become one of the greatest musicians of his time. He traveled all over ancient Greece performing before captivated crowds while spreading stories of the gods through song and poetry.

His most renowned feat was conquering death itself in an attempt to retrieve his beloved wife Eurydice from Hades’ underworld. He sang beautiful songs at the gates of Hades so intensely that no one could resist it– not even King Pluto himself! After being granted a chance to bring Eurydice back from death’s realm, Orpheus made a single mistake that cost him – he looked upon her before exiting Hades permanently – something that was forbidden. Before he could reach safety outside, Eurydice disappeared once more into death’s depths without ever looking back at him. Filled with unbearable grief and sorrow, it is said that Orpheus went on forever singing heartbreakingly poignant songs from his lyre as he wept tears of endless sadness until his death atop Mount Olympus (Olympos).

In memory of Orpheus’s story and majestic musical abilities, Zeus immortalized him in the night sky by placing his image among stars known today as ‘Lyra’. To honor this story further some historians have given each star on Lyra both names referring to characters or elements of this epic story: Sidus Euryphaessa (Eurydice’s Star), Sidus Polyhymnia (Polyhymnia’s Star), Aresmus (star belonging to Ares), Jasonius (star belonging to Jason) among many others. In antiquity as well as modern times mankind has looked up upon these stars admiring how these tiny little lights still hum stories from long ago- tales we may never forget or ever outgrow…

The Lyre of Orpheus

The Greek myth of Orpheus and his lyre is one of the most renowned of all myths, relating to the power of music and how it could evoke emotions within people. According to the legend, Orpheus was a musician, singer and poet who possessed a magical lyre which had been given to him by god Apollo. With this remarkable instrument he could charm wild animals, rocks and trees and bring them to motion.

Accordingly, the lyre became so famous that it eventually made its way into the night sky: in the constellation Lyra – discovered by Ptolemy in 127ad – which represented the instrument itself; complete with its strings running between corners. In time it became one of 88 constellations recognised by astronomers today. This mythical apparition represents not only a timeless message concerning music but also one on human perception: highlighting how imagination can take us beyond our physical realm into an unexplored realm of possibility.

The connection between Orpheus’ lyre and science was further maintained through their respective roles in research during antiquity; whereby Pythagoras used mathematical principles to dissect musical harmony and played on this same instrument as part of his lectures on acoustics; demonstrating how both knowledge systems were intertwined at such times. The legacy of this musical relationship between religion, art and science gives way to the celebrated importance that Lyra has maintained throughout centuries as a symbolic embodiment for creativity; passion; exploration; inspiration and unity across disciplines!

Lyra Constellation

The Lyra constellation is one of the most ancient constellations in the night sky, and its exact origin is lost in time. Located in the northern hemisphere and visible in the summer months, tracks of the constellation have been observed in early Babylonian star catalogs. It is believed that the Lyra constellation is associated with the myth of Orpheus and his lyre, a musical instrument he used to charm beasts with his music.

Let’s dive into the fascinating history of the Lyra constellation and the role it plays in mythology:

History of the Lyra Constellation

The Lyra constellation has been a fixture in the night sky for centuries, with references dating as far back as ancient Greek mythology. The constellation of Lyra is thought to represent the lyre of Orpheus, a musician and poet in Greek mythology. It is often depicted as a vulture or eagle carrying the lyre in its beak or claws. The brightest star in the Lyra constellation is Vega, which was documented by astronomer Ptolemy over 2,000 years ago. Since then, many new stars have been identified, making this one of the most complete constellations of stars in history.

The Lyra constellation has been around long enough to have had its meaning interpreted differently throughout time and across cultures. The Sumerians associated it with Gilgamesh’s bow; Babylonians with Ishtar’s Celestial Harp; Islamic astronomers referred to it as Annus Sanctus or “the Holy Year”; Hebrews saw it representing King David’s harp; and John Flamsteed declared it to represent a lute when cataloguing the stars in the late 1600s. Other interpretations from different cultures include an eagle’s claw, ship’s masthead and a eagle grasping serpents.

In more modern times, scientists have discovered much more about this fascinating region of space. In 1846 Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve discovered that Vega was part of a triple star system – now known as Struve 2398 – making Vega one of the only bright stars that is part of such a system visible in human eyesight without assistance from a telescope or any other kind of device for detecting light in space beyond our own ability to detect it through vision alone. This bright star makes up part of what 30 Doradus Nebula sometimes known as The Tarantula nebula (or simply 30 Dor) which makes up part 595A subgrouping and lies within an area called the Local Bubble – between 85 million-240 million years old and 800-1,200 lightyears away from Earth – all further evidence that constellations like Lyra are much older than we could ever comprehend!

Astronomical Characteristics

Lyra is a relatively faint constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere near the star Vega. It contains some of the brightest stars in the night sky and some variable stars, including R Lyrae, which is visible to the naked eye. Lyra spans 31.6 square degrees of sky – making it around one-third of the size of Total Moon’s surface area – and is bordered by Vulpecula, Hercules and Draco constellations.

Astronomical characteristics

  • At magnitude 3.8, Lyra’s brightest star Vega is among the 20 respective brightest stars in all night skys and appears with yellowish hue.
  • Alpha Lyrae (Vega) streams southward from Theta Lyrae at 5th magnitude marking one corner of what is sometimes referred to as Summer Triangle, or alternatively as The Great Diamond comprising also Altair (in Aquila) and Deneb (Cygnus).
  • Alpha Lyrae (Vega) distance from us shows to be about 25 light years away.
  • Other but less noteworthyly bright stars in this constellation are Sheliak, Sulafat, Epsilon Lyrae making colourful double star known as “Double Double”  named after its two double stars.
  • This constellation also boasts several remarkable variables spread throughout its boundaries: RR Lyraes and RZ Lyras cataclysmic variables makes them vary alternating between brightness intensities considerably due to shock waves registered between their layers internal composition vary greatly while their temperatures pulsate wildly  ranging from 4000 K to 1 million K respectively!

Lyra in Music

Lyra is most famous for being the constellation containing the star Vega, which has been remembered in both Greek and Arabic mythology. However, what many people don’t know is that Lyra is also strongly associated with the myth of Orpheus and his famous lyre.

Throughout history, Orpheus’ lyre has been used as the basis for certain musical instruments including the modern-day guitar, violin and harp. In this article, we’ll look at the myth of Orpheus’ lyre and its connection with the Lyra constellation in the sky.

Influence of the Lyre in Ancient Greece

The influence of the constellation Lyra in Ancient Greek culture is extensive. Its stars have been used by the people of Greece to mark the arrival of summer, assist in navigation and charting the night sky and serve as a reminder of one of its most famous legends: The story of Orpheus’ lyre.

The constellation was seen by ancient Greeks as a representation of their great musician, Orpheus. According to mythology, Orpheus was given a lyre by Apollo, son of Zeus. With this instrument, he was able to charm gods and humans alike with his captivating music and become an important part of Ancient Greek folklore.

In addition to musically influencing Ancient Greek culture, the legend and symbolism surrounding Orpheus’ lyre had an impact too – serving as an inspiration for many great works such as Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” where it featured prominently. The constellation Lyra is also seen as Apollo’s servants holding up his lyre suggesting its continuing association with divine power and influence.

The stories behind Lyra are interesting enough on their own but they gain even more importance when one considers that star formations around the time were being used describe different aspects of life; a characteristic that can still be found in present day pictorial constellations like Libra (the scales) or Gemini (the twins). Thus we can say that Lyra has been both a prominent figure in mythology and also has had tangible effect on Ancient Greece by being used for navigation purposes along with helping to recount stories for generations to come through both word-of-mouth and visual means since its depiction in art is consistently more powerful than audiences could ever grasp from words alone.

Influence of the Lyre in Modern Music

The Lyra constellation is alive and present in music, ranging from pieces and recordings based on the theme of Orpheus to musicians borrowing its stars to names instruments or even entire albums.

One example of a successful work influenced by the story of Orpheus is French composer Hector Berlioz’s symphony named “Harold in Italy” as it pays homage to Lord Byron’s poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”. The fourth movement from this symphony titled “Mélodie (Chanson d’Orphée)” includes a viola part inspired by the lyre held by Orpheus in the painting eulogized in Byron’s poem. Violinist Salvatore Accardo has released a recording under that title, showcasing the influence of the original inspired by eulogizing with music.

In 1998, David Darling and Michael Kramer released an album entitled “The lyre of Orpheus“, echoing sentiments found across literature and burrowing them into soundscapes built with organic instrumentation. Similarly, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was an English supergroup featuring former members of Yes that named their first record together after their (individual) respective constellations: notably highlighting Lyra by naming it “Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe“.

Lead singer for Yes Jon Anderson also produced his own album simply entitled ‘Lyra‘. This record contains no songs about Greek mythology or about Anderson’s birth constellation, but each song was thematically crafted as a tool to lift one up spiritually regardless of belief systems or religious branches. This concept touches upon the same spirit of art roused within its users throughout history making use of its advantages for entertainment and spiritual connection.


This paper has explored the history and mythological significance of Lyra, known as the constellation of Orpheus’ lyre. We have observed that this constellation has been discovered in multiple cultures throughout time, including the Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations. The mythology of Orpheus’ lyre, in which it is said to possess magical powers capable of calming beasts of the wild and raising the dead, has been tied to Lyra throughout its history.

While much of Lyra’s story is obscured by time and varying versions of it have permeated different cultures, one thing remains consistent: the power of music is immortalized in its skyward counterpart, which still remains a source of fascination for star gazers even today. Whether you visit Lyra with a telescope or explore its stories from various ancient civilizations, you are bound to find something remarkable about this stellar instrument that spans classical mythology and beyond.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What is the Lyra constellation?

A1: The Lyra constellation is one of the 88 modern constellations that make up the night sky. It is located in the northern sky and is visible in the summer months. It is named after the lyre of Orpheus from Greek mythology.

Q2: What is the myth of Orpheus’ lyre?

A2: The myth of Orpheus’ lyre is a story from Greek mythology about the legendary musician Orpheus and his magical lyre. According to the myth, Orpheus was able to charm animals and rocks with his music, and his lyre was so powerful that it was able to move even the gods.

Q3: What is the history of the Lyra constellation?

A3: The Lyra constellation has been known since ancient times and is believed to have been first recorded by the ancient Babylonians around 1000 BC. It is associated with the myth of Orpheus and his lyre, which was said to have been placed in the sky by the gods.