Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus was, apart from Herakles, one of the very few mortals to descend into the Underworld and return. He was the son of a Thracian king called Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope. There were nine Muses, who represented the arts, and Calliope was the muse of music, so Orpheus grew up to be the finest poet and musician there has ever been. Apollo gave him a lyre, which the Muses taught him to play so well that he not only enchanted the wild beasts, but even the trees and rocks would dance to his music.

Orpheus was one of the Argonauts, and his music helped them through many a difficult moment. When they returned from their journey to Colchis he married Eurydice.

All was well until one day when she was walking by a river, and she met with Aristaeus who tried to force himself upon her. She fled, but in running away she trod on a serpent and died from its bite.

Orpheus did not give in to mourning; on the contrary, he picked up his lyre and descended into Hades to fetch her back. He used the door into the Underworld, which was at Aornum in Thesprotis, and when he arrived in Tartarus he not only charmed Charon, the ferryman, but also soothed the Dog Cerberus and the three Judges of the Dead with his music. Even the torments of the damned were temporarily suspended, and the god Hades gave him leave to lead Eurydice back to the world of the living. There was only one condition that Hades made – Orpheus must not look back until they had both left the Underworld.

So Eurydice followed Orpheus, guided through the dark passages by the music of his lyre, and it was only when he reached the sunlight that he was gripped by doubt – was his love really behind him? He turned to see, but Eurydice had not quite reached the exit from Hades, and all Orpheus saw was her fading form reaching futilely towards him as the Underworld reclaimed her. Years later, Orpheus himself came to a tragic end , and no doubt was reunited with his love in the afterlife.



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