Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Orpheus (OHR-fee-uhs), a young singer and poet who is in love with Eurydice. At the news of his sweetheart’s death, he fills the air with his lament and vows to go to the very gates of Tartarus and, with the beauty of his music, win back his love. There, his melodies so charm Pluto that the god grants him permission to lead Eurydice back to Earth on condition that he not look back along the way. Overcome by doubts, he does look back, only to see Eurydice drawn again among the shades. Heartbroken, he is determined never to seek love again. As punishment for his scorn of love, he is torn to pieces by the Bacchantes.


Eurydice (ew-RIH-dih-see), a nymph who is loved by Orpheus and sought by him in the Underworld after her death. Given permission to follow her lover back to Earth, she is drawn again among the shades when he breaks his promise to Pluto that he will not look back along the way.


Pluto (PLEW-toh), the god of the Underworld, who is so charmed by Orpheus’ music that he grants him permission to lead Eurydice back to earth.


Proserpina (proh-SUR-peh-nah), the goddess of the Underworld and the wife of Pluto, so charmed by Orpheus’ lyre that she wishes to return Eurydice to him.


Tisiphone (teh-SIH-fuh-nee), one of the Furies. She blocks Orpheus’ way when he tries to follow Eurydice back into the Underworld.


Aristaeus (ay-ruhs-TEE-uhs), a shepherd enamored of Eurydice.


Mopsus (MOP-suhs) and


Thyrsis (THUR-sihs), shepherds and companions of Aristaeus.


Mnesillus (neh-SIH-luhs), a satyr.

Orfeo Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bolgar, R. R. “Imitation in the Vernaculars.” 1954. Reprint. In The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Places Orfeo in its literary framework as the first contemporary drama with a classical theme and drawing on classical authors.

Haar, James. Essays on Italian Poetry and Music in the Renaissance, 1350-1600. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Analyzes the relationship between poetry and music. Provides much information for persons interested in the historical context of Poliziano’s work.

Pirrotta, Nino. “Music and Cultural Tendencies in Fifteenth-Century Italy.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 19 (1966): 139-146. Indicates Poliziano’s interest in music.

Pirrotta, Nino, and Elena Povoledo. Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi. Translated by Karen Eales. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Places Poliziano’s poetic work within the historical framework of Italian Renaissance musical performance.

Poliziano, Angelo. A Translation of the Orpheus of Angelo Politian and the Aminta of Torquato Tasso. Translated by Louis E. Lord. London: Humphrey Milford, 1931. The only readily available translation; the English is archaic. Contains translations of Poliziano’s original edition and of an expanded edition published in the late eighteenth century. Includes a lengthy (about seventy pages) introduction to pastoral drama, the form that Orfeo takes.