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Orpheus and the Law: The Story of Myrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Ziogas, I.



According to Horace, Orpheus and Amphion were the first legislators. They forbade casual sex, gave rights to spouses, and inscribed laws on wood (Ars Poetica 396-401). Orpheus, who is both the model of the devoted husband and the founding father of pederasty, simultaneously establishes and challenges the institution of marriage. His myth acquires a deeply political dimension at Rome after the emperor Augustus introduced laws that encouraged marriage and criminalised adultery. In the Metamorphoses, Orpheus attempts to regulate desire and is subsequently executed by married or marriageable women. He is a figure of Ovid, the poet who spelled out the constitution of the rules of conduct within the domains of sexual attraction in his Art of Love and was punished for subverting the institution of marriage. This article focuses on Orpheus’ story of Myrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and reads the tale against the background of Augustus’ marriage and adultery laws. The myth of Myrrha is rife with legal language and courtroom rhetoric that provocatively conflate incest with marriage.


Ziogas, I. (2016). Orpheus and the Law: The Story of Myrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Law in context (Bundoora), 34(1), 24-41

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2016
Deposit Date May 9, 2016
Journal Law in context.
Print ISSN 0811-5796
Publisher Federation Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Issue 1
Pages 24-41
Publisher URL