Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus and Eurydice

The ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice  tells of Orpheus of Thrace’s fateful love for the lovely Eurydice. Orpheus was the son of Apollo and Calliope, the muse. It could be a late addition to the Orpheus myths, as the latter cult-title implies those associated with Persephone. It could be based on a legend in which Orpheus visits Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.

Apollo taught his son Orpheus how to play the lyre. It was said that “nothing, neither enemies nor beasts, could resist Orpheus’ beautiful melodies.” Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice, a beautiful and graceful woman with whom he married and lived happily for a short time. When Hymen was summoned to bless the marriage, he predicted that their perfection would not last.

Eurydice was wandering in the forest with the Nymphs shortly after this prophecy. According to some versions of the story, the shepherd Aristaeus saw her and, enchanted by her beauty, made advances towards her and began to pursue her. According to other versions of the story, Eurydice was simply dancing with the Nymphs.

She was bitten by a snake while fleeing or dancing and died instantly. Orpheus sung his grief with his lyre and managed to move everything in the world, living or not; both humans and gods became aware of his sorrow and grief.

Orpheus eventually decided to go to Hades to see his wife. Any other mortal would have died, but because he was protected by the gods, Orpheus went to Hades and arrived at the Stygian realm, passing by ghosts and souls of unknown people. He also managed to entice Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with his music. He appeared in front of Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and his wife, Persephone.

 Orpheus attracted Hades with his lyre playing. Hades told Orpheus that he could take Eurydice back with him on one condition: she had to walk behind him out of the underworld’s caves, and he couldn’t turn to look at her as they walked.

Orpheus was overjoyed, thinking it was a simple task for a patient man like himself; he thanked the gods and left to return to the living world. However, because he couldn’t hear Eurydice’s footsteps, he began to suspect the gods had duped him. Eurydice could have been behind him, but only as a shadow, needing to return to the light to become a full woman again. Orpheus attempted to return to the underworld but was unable to do so, possibly because a person cannot enter Hades twice while still alive. According to various versions of the myth, he played a mourning song on his lyre, pleading for death so that he could be forever united with Eurydice. He was either killed by beasts tearing him apart or by enraged Maenads. His head was completely intact, but it continued to sing as it floated in the water before washing up on the island of Lesbos.

According to another version, Zeus struck him with lightning because he suspected Orpheus of revealing the secrets of the underworld to humans. The Muses, according to this story, decided to save his head and keep it among the living to sing forever, enchanting everyone with his melodies. They also made his lyre into a constellation in the sky.

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