In Greek myth, Orpheus was a poet, singer and musician in the region of Thrace, able to charm all living things, and even stones and earth, with his music. As one of Jason's Argonauts, he charmed the sirens with the music of his lyre so that they allowed the ship to pass. Later, following the death of his wife Eurydice, his sorrowful music made the gods weep and persuaded Hades and Persephone, rulers of the underworld, to release Eurydice. However, despite warnings, Orpheus turned back to look at her before they reached the upper world and she was lost after all. Orpheus himself was eventually killed by the Bacchae of Dionysus, who were angry that he had rejected their god and now worshipped only the sun.
The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told in two operas, most famously by Christoph Willibald Gluck (Orfeo ed Euridice, 1762) and more recently by Ernst Krenek (Orpheus und Eurydike, 1926). It also forms the basic for a comic opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, by Jacques Offenbach (1858). The music popularly known as the Can-Can is drawn from this opera, where it is known as the 'Infernal Galop'. The whole piece is a risque parody of Gluck's opera. It shocked early audiences, but this controversy heightened public interest and it remains well known and is performed with reasonable regularity.
Orpheus is most often depicted playing a lyre, an open stringed instrument something like a small harp, but a Shakespearian reference from Henry VIII describes him as playing a lute, beginning 'Orpheus with his lute made trees, and the mountain tops that freeze, bow themselves, when he did sing', and ending 'In sweet music is such art, killing care and grief of heart, fall asleep or hearing, die.' The lute is a closed string instrument, looking similar to a small guitar or mandolin. Appropriately, Shakespeare's poem has also been set to music frequently, including versions by Arthur Sullivan (1863) and Vaughan Williams (1901)