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The Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice Orpheus was the son of Oeagrus, a Thracian king, and the muse Calliope. He was trained on the lyre by Apollo, and soon his music was as beautiful and magical as that of his teacher. Orpheus’ music tamed wild animals, and even trees and mountains would creep closer to hear him play.
Orpheus married Eurydice, but their happiness was short-lived. The bride stepped into a nest of snakes and was bitten. She quickly died from her wounds.
According to the poet Virgil, Orpheus mourned Eurydice so deeply, and played songs so sad, that all of the nymphs and gods wept. They convinced him to descend to the Underworld, to fetch back his bride.
He traveled over the river Styx, to the very throne room of Hades and Persephone. There he made his appeal singing the most beautiful song ever heard:
“I came for my wife’s sake, whose growing years were taken by a snake’s venom. I wanted to be able to bear this; I have tried to. Love has conquered…If fate denies us this privilege for my wife, one thing is certain: I do not want to go back either; triumph in the death of two.”
Orpheus’ playing was so beautiful, everything stopped. Sisyphus sat down atop his boulder, and Tantalus gave up trying to reach the water. Hades and Persephone were so moved, they called for Eurydice.
They told Orpheus that he could take Eurydice, still limping from her wound, but he must not look back at her until they had reached the upper world.
As they neared the upper world, Orpheus became more and more anxious to behold Eurydice. Knowing he could not, he felt that he had to look back. When he felt Eurydice stumble behind him, his resolve crumbled and he turned to steady her.
As he turned, Eurydice faded back into the depths of Hades, reaching out her arms for him even as she died a second time. “Dying a second time, she complained not of her husband, for why should she complain of being beloved? “
Orpheus begged to be allowed to cross the river once more, but Charon drove him away. For seven days, Orpheus sat by the bank of the river crying for his wife. He never loved another woman.
Why Does It Move Us? • Orpheus and Eurydice is a story of unfailing love. • Unlike many other stories in Ovid, the character’s downfall doesn’t come about because of his shortcomings, but rather because of his love and passion. • This destruction through the best of man adds to the tragedy.