Classical Investing: The Music of Orpheus

Can modern investors learn something from an ancient love story?

Orpheus among the animals. Source: Wikipedia

I’m a sucker for a good story, especially an ancient one. Many of our oldest tales tell us something about ourselves – about our hopes and dreams and fears and tendencies. The very fact that these stories have been preserved from antiquity tells us that they have a special relevance: they speak to us on many levels.

Such is the case with Orpheus. Orpheus was a musician, poet, and prophet who could charm people and animals and even stones with his music. He fell in love with and married Eurydice, a daughter of Apollo. She was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Heartbroken, Orpheus travelled to the underworld. His music softened the iron hearts of Hades and Persephone, who said that Eurydice could return with Orpheus, but only if he led the way and didn’t look back. As soon as Orpheus reached the surface, though, he turned around to see wife. But she hadn’t crossed the threshold yet, and vanished—this time, forever.

Orpheus and Eurydice. Source: Wikipedia

The story is one of talent, and limits to that talent. Orpheus’s music was incredibly powerful. It could move others to do things that were far outside of their nature. His singing could even change the courses of rivers. Nothing could resist it. But after winning his way into hell and winning his love back from the dead, he couldn’t keep the one condition that Hades put on him. Whether it was because he doubted Hades word or he was so overjoyed when he reached daylight or – in other versions – Zeus throws a lightning bolt at him to frighten him, Orpheus looks back. And in that looking, he loses what he had worked so hard for.

In business and life we see folks who are overcome by issues in their own character – or just unfortunate circumstances. They lose what they’ve worked for, sometimes at the very threshold of success, when they can see daylight. To me, the tragedy of Orpheus comes from his being alone. He didn’t have anyone with him to keep him facing forward.

It’s not enough to be talented. We others around us to encourage us and help us and remind us of why we are where we are. Only then can we hope to reach our goals.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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