Mythical Orpheus: Are We Giving Up The Fight?

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | March 9, 2005, Wednesday // 00:00

by Petya Bondokova

Over the last years Bulgaria has put a lot of efforts into promoting its rich history and impressive cultural and archaeological heritage. This campaigning has a sentimental aspect to the nation, but most of all comes for an economic reason. More and more Bulgarians make a living on tourism, and many experts believe the hospitality industry is actually the country's only chance for economic revival.

Are state institutions determined to realize such advertisement, or all this is just West-inspired bombastic statements without actual understanding? Now that Bulgaria has set up a special Tourism and Culture Ministry, it is about time to see wishful thinking put into action.

The first crucial test is already a fact.

Last week, Greek tour operators usurped one of the most popular and fascinating mythical figures of the Thracians - that of deified royal descendant Orpheus. He is looked upon as one of the chief poets and musicians of antiquity, whose lyre mastery could charm the wild beasts and even draw trees and rocks from their places and stop rivers from flowing.

It is no wonder that the beautiful legend of Orpheus has inspired many artpieces worldwide, including Claudio Monteverdi's Orfeo, the operetta Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach, the Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending, Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, a modernized version in Nick Cave's song The Lyre of Orpheus, as well as numerous film retellings.

The Mythical artist has also become a key figure of Greek legend, although various sources mention that Orpheus was borrowed by the Greeks from their Thracian neighbours. With Greek tour operators now advertising their destination as "the land of mythical Orpheus," borrowing has turned into theft.

The move triggered otrage among Bulgarian scientists, but there is still no word from the Tourims and Culture officials. For a week already, eminent archeologists have been calling on the government to take a firm stand. Bulgaria is being robbed of a major cultural asset, and also of a trademark that could bring a lot of money, the scholars alarmed.

"Even if we want to put it mildly, the Greek move is nothing but a theft, and a theft that makes money," Associate Professor Krassimir Leshtakov told Bulgarian journalists on Wednesday. Leshtakov recalled on how the Troy blockbuster recently boosted fivefold land price where ancient Troy was, as the movie had sparkled a craze among US and German tourists.

Leshatkov and famed archeologists Professor Nikolay Ovcharov teamed up efforts for drawing the attention of state institutions to the issue. The two seemed worried about state policies, and called on the newly-founded Ministry for a counter-campaign.

In any case, a firm stand will be more than justified. Bulgaria is preparing to open a unique archeological finding that might turn out to be the gravesite of Orpheus. The temple is located in the eastern part of the Rhodope Mountains, and has been carved out of a large single rock piece, 4.5 meters in height. That structure differs from any other Thracian tomb uncovered in the mountain, and, together with the picturesque location, apparantly has the potential to become a tourism landmark.

...If only Orpheus had not been claimed Greek already.

Handling this matter will be an indication for the ability of the Tourism and Culture body to work efficiently. Giving up the battle could mean losing the war - and let us all hope that will not happen.

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