Orpheus and Eurydice

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Egyptian tapestry roundel with Orpheus and Apollo, 5th–6th century CE

The ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice (Greek: Ὀρφεύς, Εὐρυδίκη, Orpheus, Eurydikē) concerns the fateful love of Orpheus of Thrace for the beautiful Eurydice. Orpheus was the son of Oeagrus and the muse Calliope. It may be a late addition to the Orpheus myths, as the latter cult-title suggests those attached to Persephone. The subject is among the most frequently retold of all Greek myths, being featured in numerous works of literature, operas, ballets, paintings, plays, musicals, and more recently, films and video games.


Orpheus and Eurydice in Palais Garnier, Paris. Their names are in Greek, ΟΡΦΕΥΣ (Orpheus) and ΕΥΡΥΔΙΚΗ (Eurydice).

In Virgil's classic version of the legend, it completes his Georgics, a poem on the subject of agriculture. Here the name of Aristaeus, or Aristaios, the keeper of bees, and the tragic conclusion was first introduced.[1]

Ovid's version of the myth, in his Metamorphoses, was published a few decades later and employs a different poetic emphasis and purpose. It relates that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus, but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day.[2]

In the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus Eurydice is simply bitten by a snake before dying and Orpheus goes to Hades to retrieve her.[3]

Other ancient writers treated Orpheus's visit to the underworld more negatively. According to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium,[4] the infernal deities only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Plato's representation of Orpheus is in fact that of a coward; instead of choosing to die in order to be with his love, he mocked the deities in an attempt to visit Hades, to get her back alive. As his love was not "true"—meaning that he was not willing to die for it—he was punished by the deities, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld and then by having him killed by women.[4]


Apollo gave Orpheus a lyre and taught him how to play. It had been said that "nothing could resist Orpheus's beautiful melodies, neither enemies nor beasts." Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice, a woman of beauty and grace, whom he married and lived with happily for a short time. However, when Hymen was called to bless the marriage, he predicted that their perfection was not meant to last.

A short time after this prophecy, Eurydice was wandering in the forest with the Nymphs. In some versions of the story, the shepherd Aristaeus saw her, and beguiled by her beauty, made advances towards her and began to chase her. Other versions of the story relate that Eurydice was merely dancing with the Nymphs. While fleeing or dancing, she was 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 learnt about his sorrow and grief.

At some point, Orpheus decided to descend to Hades by music to see his wife. Any other mortal would have died, but Orpheus, being protected by the gods, went to Hades and arrived at the Stygian realm, passing by ghosts and souls of people unknown. He also managed to attract Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with a liking for his music. He presented himself in front of the god of the Greek underworld, Hades and his wife, Persephone.

Orpheus played with his lyre a song so heartbreaking that even Hades himself was moved to compassion. The god told Orpheus that he could take Eurydice back with him, but under one condition: she would have to follow behind him while walking out from the caves of the underworld, and he could not turn to look at her as they walked.

Thinking it a simple task for a patient man like himself, Orpheus was delighted; he thanked Hades and left to ascend back into the living world. Unable to hear Eurydice's footsteps, however, he began to fear the gods had fooled him. Eurydice might have been behind him, but as a shade, having to come back into the light to become a full woman again. Only a few feet away from the exit, Orpheus lost his faith and turned to see Eurydice behind him, sending her back to be trapped in Hades' reign forever.

Orpheus tried to return to the underworld but was unable to, possibly because a person cannot enter the realm of Hades twice while alive. According to various versions of the myth, he played a mourning song with his lyre, calling for death so that he could be united with Eurydice forever. He was killed either by beasts tearing him apart, or by the Maenads, in a frenzied mood. His head remained fully intact, and still sang as it floated in the water before washing up on the island of Lesbos. According to another version, Zeus decided to strike him with lightning knowing Orpheus might reveal the secrets of the underworld to humans. In this telling, the Muses decided to save his head and keep it among the living people to sing forever, enchanting everyone with his melodies. They additionally cast his lyre into the sky as a constellation.



Film and stage[edit]

Music and ballet[edit]

Visual arts[edit]

Orpheus Mourning the Death of Eurydice, 1814 painting by Ary Scheffer.
Orpheus glances back at Eurydice, 1806 oil painting by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein Stub.

Video games[edit]

  • Titan Quest (2006) The player can accomplish quest "Eurydice and Orpheus" in Upper City of Lost Souls, and save Orpheus life using "Mirror of Psyche"


  1. ^ Lee, M. Owen (1996). Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the pundits. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 9.
  2. ^ Ovid Metamorphoses 10.1-39.
  3. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.3.2.
  4. ^ a b "Symposium 179d-e". Perseus @ tufts.edu.
  5. ^ Reeser, Todd W. (12 February 2018). "The Anti-Orpheus: Queering Myth in Ducastel et Martineau's Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau (Paris 05:59)". Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature. 42 (2): 1–19. doi:10.4148/2334-4415.1989.
  6. ^ Monahan, James (1957). Fonteyn, A Study of the Ballerina in her Setting. New York, New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation. p. 102. OCLC 952072044.
  7. ^ Blondeau, Madeline (August 3, 2022). "Don't Look Back: You Can't Save Love". Paste. Archived from the original on August 5, 2022. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  8. ^ Dhanesha, Neel (February 12, 2022). "Hades tells a love story through song and side quest". Vox. Archived from the original on February 12, 2022. Retrieved February 12, 2022.
  9. ^ Koumarelas, Robert (January 25, 2021). "Hades: How to Reunite Orpheus & Eurydice". CBR. Archived from the original on April 25, 2023. Retrieved September 7, 2021.

External links[edit]