Orpheus and Eurydice

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Egyptian tapestry roundel with Orpheus and Eurydice, 5th-6th century AD


Orpheus was the son of Apollo and Calliope, the Muse. Apollo gave his son a lyre and taught him how to play; Orpheus did to such perfection that even Apollo was surprised. It is said that nothing could resist his music and melody, neither enemies nor beasts. Even trees and rocks were entranced with his music.

Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice, a woman of unique beauty; whom he married and lived happily with for a short time. However, when Hymen was called to bless the marriage, he predicted that their perfection was not meant to last for years.

A short time after this ominous prophecy, Eurydice was wandering in the forest with the Nymphs, when Aristaeus, a shepherd, saw her and was beguiled by her beauty. He made advances towards her and began to chase her when she attempted to flee. As Eurydice sprinted through the forest, she managed to escape him, but was tragically bitten by a snake and died instantly.

Orpheus sang his grief with his lyre and managed to move everything living or not in the world; both humans and gods were deeply touched by his sorrow and grief.

Apollo then advised his son to descend to Hades and see his wife. Any other mortal would have died, but Orpheus, protected by the gods, went to the Hades and arrived at the infamous Stygian realm, passing by ghosts and souls of people unknown. He also managed to charm Cerberus, the known monster with the three heads. Orpheus presented himself in front of the god of the Underworld Hades (Pluto) and his wife Persephone.

Orpheus started playing for them and even the cold heart of Hades started melting, due to the melodies coming from Orpheus' lyre. Hades told Orpheus that he could take Eurydice with him but under one condition; Eurydice would follow him while walking out to the light from the caves of the Underworld, but he should not look at her before coming out to the light because he would lose her forever. If Orpheus was patient enough he would have Eurydice as a normal woman again on his side.

Orpheus was delighted; he thanked the gods and left to ascend to the world. He was trying to hear Eurydice’s steps, but he could not hear anything and he started believing that the gods had fooled him. Of course Eurydice was behind him, but as a shadow, waiting to come to light to become a full woman again. Only a few feet away from the exit, Orpheus lost his faith and turned to see; Eurydice was behind him, but her shadow was whisked back among the dead. Eurydice was gone forever.

Orpheus tried to return to the Underworld but a man cannot enter the Hades twice while alive. According to various versions of the myth, Orpheus started playing a mourning song with his lyre, calling for death so that he could be united with Eurydice forever. Orpheus is ultimately killed either by beasts tearing him apart, or by the Maenads, in a frenzied mood. According to another version, Zeus decided to strike him with lightning knowing Orpheus would reveal the secrets of the Underworld to humans.

In any case, Orpheus died but the Muses decided to save his head and keep it among the living people to sing for ever, enchanting everyone with the lovely melodies and tones.

Works making use of this legend[edit]


"Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes", a beautiful poem by [Rainer Maria Rilke], (1907)

Film and drama[edit]

Music and ballet[edit]

Visual arts[edit]



  1. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/29/arts/music/arcade-fire-lightens-up-a-bit-on-reflektor.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=AR_AFL_20131029&_r=0


  1. ^ http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/orpheus-and-eurydice