Ψευδὴς καὶ ὁ περὶ τοῦ Ὀρφέως μῦθος, ὅτι κιθαρίζοντι αὐτῷ ἐφείπετο τετράποδα καὶ ἑρπετὰ καὶ ὄρνεα καὶ δένδρα. δοκεῖ δέ μοι ταῦτα εἶναι. Βάκχαι μανεῖσαι πρόβατα διέσπασαν ἐν τῇ Πιερίᾳ, πολλὰ δὲ καὶ ἄλλα βιαίως εἰργάζοντο τρεπόμεναί τε εἰς τὸ ὄρος διέτριβον ἐκεῖ τὰς ἡμέρας. ὡς δὲ ἔμειναν, οἱ πολῖται, δεδιότες περὶ τῶν γυναικῶν καὶ θυγατέρων, μεταμπεμψάμενοι τὸν Ὀρφέα μηχανήσασθαι ἐδέοντο, ὃν τρόπον καταγάγοι ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄρους αὐτάς. ὁ δὲ θυσάμενος τῷ Διονύσῳ ὄργια κατάγει αὐτὰς βακχευούσας κιθαρίζων. αἱ δὲ νάρθηκας τότε πρῶτον ἔχουσαι κατέβαινον ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους καὶ κλῶνας δένδρων παντοδαπῶν· τοῖς δὲ ἀνθρώποις τότε θεασαμένοις τὰ ξύλα θαυμαστὰ ἐφαίνετο, καὶ ἔφασαν “Ὀρφεὺς κιθαρίζων ἄγει ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους καὶ τὴν ὕλην.” καὶ ἐκ τούτου ὁ μῦθος ἐπλάσθη.
(Palaephatus, Peri Apistōn 33)
Also fake is the myth about Orpheus—that four-footed animals, snakes, birds and trees followed him as he played his lyre. Here is what I think happened: in Pieria frenzied female worshippers of Dionysus were tearing apart the bodies of sheep and goats and performing many other violent acts; they turned to the mountains to spend their days there. When they failed to return to their homes, the townspeople, fearing for the safety of their wives and daughters, summoned Orpheus and asked him to devise a plan to get the women down from the mountain. Orpheus performed appropriate sacrificial rites to the god Dionysus and then by playing his lyre led the frenzied Bacchants down from the mountain. But as the women descended they held in their hands for the first time in Bacchic worship stalks of fennel and branches of various kinds of trees*. To the men who watched on that occasion the pieces of wood seemed wondrous. So they said: “By playing his lyre Orpheus is bringing the very forest down from the mountain.” And from this the myth was created.
* The reference is to the thyrsos, the sacred wand twined with ivy and topped with a pine-cone, which was carried in Dionysiac worship and which is here apparently used for the first time. For the motif compare Birnam wood.
(tr. Jacob Stern, with his note)