Several versions of Orpheus’ death have been related in myths. Ancient authors tell the following story: when Dionysos with his thiasos of Bacchants invaded Thrace, Orpheus neglected to honour him, but taught only men other mysteries. He climbed Mt Pangaios every morning to celebrate the Sun whom he named Apollo and preached that he was the greatest of all gods. In vexation, Dionysos sent him the Bassarides, Thracian women in Bacchant frenzy.
The expressive scene on the kantharos depicts the most popular variant of the myth about Orpheus being murdered by the Thracian women.
The singer is attacked by two women with flying hair approaching him at speed. The first one is about to smite Orpheus, who has already fallen on the ground, with a double-axe, as if a priest sacrifies an animal. Facial features express woman’s ecstatic frenzy. Her arms and legs are tattooed with star- and broken-line designs. The second woman, dressed in a lavishly decorated chiton that reveals below her naked bosom, wearing a garment, a chimation, flying behind her back, raises her right hand to throw a stone at the fallen man. Three ivy sprigs are hanging from under her waist band. Her flying hair suggests a bold movement, and her face is no less expressive than the first woman’s.
The scene shows Thracian women-Bacchants, enraged, holding men’s weapons in their hands, decided to kill the one who deprived them from participating in the mystery rites, together with their husbands. According to one of the myths about Orpheus’ death, Thracians tattooed their wives as punishment for their crime and to mark them forever.