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  • Writer's pictureAnca

Orpheus and Eurydice

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Orpheus was the son of a God and a Muse. His father was the God Apollo, and his mother was the muse Calliope. As the progeny of the god of the sun and music and that of the muse of poetry and eloquence, Orpheus was gifted himself with extraordinary talents.

Orpheus was given the gift of music and early on in his childhood, Apollo presented him with a Lyre and taught him how to play it. And Orpheus learnt to play the lyre to such perfection that nothing could resist the charm of his music. Humans, animals and gods alike forgot their fierce nature in his presence and were entranced by his music.  The very trees and rocks were not indifferent to the harmonies of his lyre. The music that he made was the very harmony of the world. The entire universe softened its hardness and roughness at the sound of his song. 

One day, his eyes fell upon the nymph Eurydice. Her beauty enchanted him so, that he was instantly bewitched. Equally enthralled by his charm was also the beautiful nymph Eurydice who answered his courtship. 

Orpheus married Eurydice in a grove of trees, with the spirits of the forest and of the sky rejoiced with them. Their union was celebrated by gods and humans alike. The god of marriage, Hymen himself was there to bless their nuptials, but in spite of his good presence, he brought no good omens with him. The smoke from his torch, brought tears to their eyes. And their marriage would be under these auspices. 

No long after their union, as Eurydice was wandering with the nymphs, her companions, a young shepherd saw her and struck by her beauty, he chased her over the fields. She fled and in her flight she trod upon a snake in the grass. The snake bit her in the foot and so Eurydice's life was cut short. 

Oh, how sad was Orpheus! He sang the loss of his beloved to the sun and the stars, to the earth and the rivers. His grief was felt by all who breathed, by gods and men and nothing brought joy into his life. The world of the living held no appeal and brought no consolation to him, so he descended into the realm of the dead in search for his wife. And so he descended by a cave and arrived at the river Styx. He passed through hoards of ghosts and spirits until finally he was in front of Hades, the lord of the underworld himself, and his consort, Persephone. 

Accompanied by the strings of the lyre, Orpheus sang the song of sadness and longing for his lost love. 

"Hark! O deities of the underworld, attend,

For a lover's heart, with anguish doth rend.

My fair wife, snatched by the viper's fang,

Was torn from me, and to your realm, she sprang.

For in this land of death and gloom,

Her beauty shines like the sweetest bloom.

Oh, hear my words, ye gods of death,

And grant me passage to thy fiery breath,

For I seek my love, Eurydice by name,

Whom fate and venom didst defame.

I beseech thee, by thy abodes so grim,

Where shades and spirits endlessly swim,

Unite again the thread of her precious life,

And end this never-ending strife.

For if thou dost deny me, my soul will fade,

And love's sweet light shall forever shade,

I cannot live without her by my side,

And death's embrace will soon collide.

So, with a heavy heart, I plead,

Let love's sweet flame once again feed,

And bring back my love, from thy eternal keep,

For my soul is dying, and my heart doth weep.

Grant me this boon, O gods of the dead,

And I shall forever be in your debt."

At the song of Orpheus, the underworld trembled. The ghosts shed tears.  Tantalus, in spite of his thirst and hunger, stopped reaching for the ever receding water and the retreating fruit branches that the Gods punished him to do for eternity. Ixion's wheel to which he was forever bound in torment, stood still.  The vulture ceased to tear Prometheus liver.  The daughters of Danaus rested from their task of carrying water in leaky jugs to fill a bottomless pit. Even Sisyphus, condemned to perpetually push a rock uphill only to see it slide down back again,  sat down on a rock to listen. 

And for the first time in ever, the cheeks of the terrible Furies were streaked with tears. Even Persephone could not resist, and Hades himself gave in. He summoned the spirit of Eurydice who came limping among the newly arrived ghosts. 

Hades then turned to Orpheus and pronounced that he was allowed to carry Eurydice back to the upper world but only on one condition. He should not turn around to look at her until they have reached the realm of the living. 

Under this condition they proceeded on their way, Orpheus leading, Eurydice following, through passages dark and steep, in total silence, till they were almost seeing the first rays of light of the upper world and the cheerful sounds of the living. In a moment of forgetfulness Orpheus, to assure himself she was still following, cast a glance behind him. In that very instant, Eurydice was gone. They both stretched their arms to embrace each other but it was too late. It was only empty air they reached for. Only a last "Farewell, my love!" still passed between them. 

Full of despair for losing her a second time, now by his own doing, Orpheus endeavored to follow her. But the ferryman refused him passage this time. For days and weeks he went without food or sleep or any consolation. 

The maidens of god Bacchus, tried their best to captivate him but he repulsed their advances. Tired by his rejection, the maidens threw stones at him. They screamed at him until they drowned the sound of his elegiac music. In a frantic possession, consumed by the resentment they felt at his rejection,  they pulled at his limbs until they tore him apart and his body finally gave its last breath.  

a classic painting of man with lyre and woman
Orpheus and Eurydice (Carl Goos)

The muses gathered up all the fragments of his body and buried him. At the place of his burial, the nightingales have the sweetest song. His lyre was placed among the stars. 

A ghost now, Orpheus passed into the realm of the shades where he was again reunited with his beloved Eurydice. As spirits they both roam the fields together happy and worry less and Orpheus can now gaze much as he wishes upon her and she upon him. 


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